It’s Been A Banner Spring For BFA Fairfax Athletic Teams

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When the Vermont Principals Association made the final decision last April to cancel the 2020 spring athletic season due the global pandemic, it was a crushing blow to eager BFA Fairfax spring student-athletes.  Even with the year off, however, our spring athletic teams have had stellar seasons, and have proven that they were able to come back smarter, stronger, and ready for success.  

Middle School baseball, softball, and track and field showed great skill in their shortened season.  We look forward to them playing a full season next year! 

With an extremely young team, the High School Baseball program opted to play a full JV schedule.  This decision led to some of the most exciting games in recent years on our baseball field, and truly demonstrated that the future is very bright, and baseball is back alive in Fairfax!

Boys Ultimate had a season of remarkable growth and improvement, with undeniable team unity. The team put up a great fight, but bowed out of the tournament in the first round to CVU.

High School Track and Field had one of their best showings in recent years at the Division 3 State Track and Field championships. With 20 athletes qualifying in their respective events, multiple podium placements, and the girls team finishing in 6th overall place (their highest ever finish), they made the community and program extremely proud. 

The Girls Ultimate team was one of the top contenders all season, easily advancing to the state semifinals.  In what was arguably their best game of the season, they ultimately fell to a strong Burlington High School team. Their performance this year was representative of the new life of the Girls Ultimate program, and set the stage for future success.

In their inaugural season as a Varsity team, the Boys Lacrosse team brought tons of excitement to campus. Their buzzer-beating goal in the Division 3 quarterfinals was one of the highlights of the whole year in athletics!  Although they ultimately fell to Montpelier in the semifinals, they were honored with the Division 3 State Sportsmanship Award, which is one of the greater honors bestowed upon a school and program.  

Finally, the Varsity Softball team continued their stellar season by upsetting the top seeded, undefeated, White River Valley Wildcats in the Division 3 semifinals on Tuesday.  They will play in the State Championship game at Castleton University this weekend, and hope they will have a large contingent of fans making the trip south.  For those that cannot make the game, it will be live-streamed on the NFHS Network, so fans can cheer them on from home.  

Congratulations to all of our student-athletes on an amazing spring! You have been an inspiration to us all, and role models in resilience, perseverance, and overcoming adversity!  Go Fairfax!

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

Memorable Music!

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The Spanish 7/8  classes and band at GEMS collaborated to produce a cover of the Spanish pop song, “Loca” by Alvaro Soler. With the help of Chris Gribnau, the music teacher and Laura Mathieu, the Spanish teacher, students performed both the music and words to create a music video.  The process took weeks and involved a lot of hard work in transcribing music, practicing instruments independently, memorizing lyrics and recording separately until finally putting it all into a single music video. Students were surprised they were able to memorize words in a second language. 

As with many pandemic projects, we ventured into new territory, pushed our comfort zones and learned a lot.  Working on separate recordings presented the challenge of separate timing rather than emergent unison.  Work ethic, positivity and overcoming shyness and nerves were all valuable goals.  While not perfect, we see this project as a success and hopefully the beginning of future collaborative projects.

It is notable that some qualities of students in both Spanish and band include perseverance, open-mindedness, and resiliency.

7th Grade wisdom:

“I learned to speak more Spanish and some new words.” -Kaitlyn

“I learned that a lot of people were not comfortable singing but they still tried.” – River

“What I learned from working on Loca is that hard work can pay off and the end result can be better than you think.” – Alexis

“One thing I learned doing this project was working on my instrument again.  Having a song to play made me want to practice my instrument.” -Leah

“From working on this project, I was able to step outside of my comfort zone and work with others.  I didn’t feel confident in myself at first, but after practice, I was able to finish the project feeling more confident than at the beginning.” -Mattie

Some other words of wisdom from our 8th Graders:

“I learned to not be embarrassed, you just gotta go with the flow and not care what other people think. Practice lyrics and also just have a good time with it even though you may not want to because these are the times you will remember.”  -Briana

“While working on the “Loca” project, I learned that singing in a different language is hard.  Yes, we practiced and practiced but doing this was hard but so much fun.”  -Raegan

“I definitely learned how to work in unison with my peers and remembering lyrics.” -Megan

“Some advice I would give is to not be shy, be open and make the best of it.” -Kenna

“I learned that you can pronounce words differently to match a beat.”  – Cadien

Click here to watch the video!

This blog was written by:

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

CO-WRITTEN BY:
Chris Gribnau, GEMS Music Teacher & Laura Mathieu, GEMS Spanish Teacher

Moving Forward

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Resilience at GEMS

During my “Take 20” meeting with Kay Lee, 4th grade teacher at Georgia Elementary School, I learned that she is currently in her 48th year of teaching.  The resilience and optimism she radiates is something that will stay with me always.  Kay’s students over the years have readily participated in IVECA (Intercultural Virtual Exchange of Classroom Activities). Her students have consistently connected in a very meaningful way through technology with students from South Korea, Mexico, and a host of other countries. FWSU schools were the first in Vermont to work with this esteemed program deservedly recognized by the United Nations. 

Kay has post-pandemic travel plans to visit Maine, frequent shopping at one of her favorite stores, The Christmas Tree Shop and then on a broader scale, find her way to Indonesia in the near future.  When I spoke to Kay in April, I came away with a lasting impression framed by her love for her students and the privilege of seeing them five days a week. Her selfless career spanning five decades has always been about the young, impressionable students sitting in front of her, and I am awed and truly inspired by the energy Kay brings to the classroom each morning. Kay Lee is significant both in the classroom and in her community, and we are all better for it.

Finishing Strong at Fletcher

As conditions improve it is wonderful to see the resurgence of events that we all so desperately missed over the past 14 months. The 6th grade graduation/celebration at Fletcher Elementary is scheduled outdoors for June 10th. Principal Chris Dodge is working with singer/songwriter Chad Hollister to create a special song that will include positive attributes about each individual student. This outdoor event will provide an opportunity for fellowship in a socially distanced space under a tent that will bring a sense of closure, but more importantly, it will be a celebration layered by achievement and success for our scholars, parents, faculty , and staff. 

National Honor Society Induction at BFA Fairfax

Recently, an impressive group of students representing the Class of 2021, 2022,  and 2023 were inducted into the National Honor Society at the athletic field on a mid-May beautiful evening. Families brought lawn chairs to this uplifting event where we all relished the opportunity to gather collectively to support this highly regarded group of young leaders with such bright futures. Some key takeaways for me included the fact that students led the celebration; the extraordinary efforts behind community service projects that students completed amid a pandemic; but mostly, the communal drive to come together as one to share in the accomplishments of our young people.  

The overriding sense of pride, togetherness, and resilient spirit that shined through the eyes of the class of 2021 and their proud families and friends make me further realize just how important human interaction truly is.  A pastor told me only a few years ago to, “Take the time to look up.”  I have spent too much time looking into a 15″ screen these past 14 months.  I plan on heeding my own advice and that of the pastor and look up toward the mountains and the stars while imagining the limitless possibilities in front of us all.  But for now, please know how grateful I am for the present and all that each of you have contributed to our children so that their dreams and visions can become real.

Quotable Moving Forward

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.“Out there in the wild, on a long journey, you hike your own hike, blaze your own trail, and only you can find what you’re looking for.” 

— Scott Jurek 

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Scott Jurek is the author of “North,” the story of an intensely inspiring 46-day run to break the speed record for the Appalachian Trail.

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

Gratitude

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Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Gratitude is a word I use often when referring to my appreciation of the extraordinary efforts of all the staff that work at BFA Fairfax.  Since March of 2020, all employees have unconditionally given of themselves to navigate this once in a lifetime pandemic. Our staff has reimagined our educational systems from the way we provide food, how we transport students, and redesigned educational spaces to support safety. 

In addition to being resilient and flexible, our students have demonstrated an immense amount of academic, social and emotional growth this year. They have learned many lessons and skills throughout the pandemic that will serve them well as they encounter other unforeseen obstacles in life.  Our families have demonstrated incredible flexibility, provided ongoing support, and frequently shared their appreciation for our efforts. 

We are eternally grateful and would like to take this time to express our immense gratitude to everyone who has engaged with our learners over the course of the school year. Your interactions, albeit big or small, have had such a positive impact. It definitely takes a village! 

We wish you a relaxing and much deserved summer break. Be well.

Expressing Gratitude Slideshow — created by Rhonda Siemons 

Our slideshow is set to auto-play, however viewers may still need to tap/click on individual slides to transition or hear audio depending on the device or browser you are using.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is t.-walsh-2.png

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

CO-WRITTEN BY:
Rhonda Siemons, BFA Technology Integrationist

Memorial Day

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Let Memorial Day be a day to count our blessings and remember those who serve to protect our country and our freedom. We are forever grateful for the ultimate sacrifice of those who have served for the United States of America. May their courage and dedication never be forgotten.

These videos were created by GEMS TV EXPRESS students. They include past assemblies honoring Memorial day as well as a current “Thank you Soldiers” tribute to families and those protecting us. Unfortunately, we could not gather in person this year to honor our soldiers, but know we are thinking of you and your families.


Thank You!

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

Music Al Fresco!

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It was a long time coming, but last week, members of the BFA High School Concert Band came together for their first in-person rehearsal! 

After a year of Zoom sectionals, individual lessons in the room, and generally being apart from each other, everyone was extremely gratified to enjoy the beautiful day outside together to make music as a group for the first time in over a year.  This was as true for the teachers as it was for the students! 

There’s no replacement for live music, and everyone involved (including some elementary student audiences) rated the experience a true success. 

Here’s to more group music in the near future!

This blog was written by Glen Wallace, the Director of Bands at BFA Fairfax.

Fletcher Students Assist Threatened Lake Sturgeon

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Families and staff from Fletcher Elementary School partnered with the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain on May 11 to take on the role of environmental stewards in support of the threatened lake sturgeon. 

During a virtual science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) evening event, participants from the school connected virtually with an environmental educator from ECHO to learn about the monstrous creatures of the deep and some unconventional efforts being used to protect and rehabilitate the species’s population. The evening’s event was coined, Fish Assist.

“The lake sturgeon is the coolest fish ever,” third grader William Nadeau said. “It can get really, really big and it looks just like a dinosaur. I was very disappointed to learn about how it is threatened and how people are doing things that could result in it not being around forever.”

Lake sturgeon are listed as threatened in 19 of the 20 states in which they live, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They are freshwater fish living in North America from the Hudson Bay through the Mississippi River drainage. Lake sturgeon can live for up to 150 years and grow to be more than nine feet in length and weigh 300 pounds. Over-harvesting and a loss of habitat as a result of the creation of dams are the primary reasons for the species’ declining population. Like its prehistoric ancestors, the lake sturgeon’s rows of spiny armored plates called scutes resemble dinosaurs from long ago. The species lives in Vermont in Lake Champlain and several rivers including the Winooski, Missisquoi, Lamoille and Otter Creek.

“I think it’s really important to learn about the impact we have on the environment and the creatures that depend on it,” Nadeau said. “When we learn about how our actions affect animals we can do things to change the negative impact and protect and save them.”

Prior to the event, students learned about the lake sturgeon through readings and videos in their classrooms, including a virtual visit to the sturgeon tank at ECHO. They were sent home with an engineering activity kit that they used during the event.

“After we learned more about the lake sturgeon, we were challenged to use a variety of materials like a balloon and popsicle sticks to create a fish cannon that could help a lake sturgeon make its way over a dam and go upriver to spawn,” Nadeau said. “Dams made by humans sometimes prevent them from getting upstream and that is reducing their population.”

While the fish cannons created by students are not exactly like those used in real life, the concept is similar. Several supports, such as fish ladders – tiered layers of “stairs” that help sturgeon get over a dam – and small water-powered chutes, are all being used to ease the migration. Fletcher teachers facilitated virtual breakout sessions with students as they used their materials in a variety of ways to design and share their fish cannons.

Fletcher families have a very special connection to the lake sturgeon. When ECHO added lake sturgeon to their aquarium collection, they were transported across the country from the Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute in Milwaukee to the ECHO Leahy Center by Fletcher resident Bob Lesnikoski.

“Events like this really empower our students to think responsibly about their own actions and how those behaviors impact the natural world,” second grade teacher Kathleen Pellegrino said. “For most of our students, this opportunity not only introduced a new and exciting animal to their learning, but it also offered an opportunity for students to be creative problem-solvers, to create solutions that might fail and then to improve upon those. That’s the beauty of the engineering design process.”

“It’s like that old saying, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” Nadeua said. “The engineering design process is a chance to make mistakes and learn from them. My fish cannon design didn’t work at first, but I improved it and then it was great.”

In addition to the engineering design kit students used to support sturgeon migration, students also received a butterfly migration kit to use following the event. The event and kits were funded in part by a grant from ECHO.

“One of the greatest privileges of teaching is to help students see and understand the world beyond the four walls of the classroom,” third grade teacher Tracey Godin said. “Particularly during the past year, we’ve learned to reimagine our use of technology in new and exciting ways, including events like this one, that become easily accessible to families right from their living rooms.”

“I learned so much from this experience, Nadeau said. “I learned that I can help these amazing creatures to survive and that you’re never too young to be an engineer who lends a hand.”

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.

Lift-Off!!

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As annual traditions go, 5th Grade STARBASE is a keeper. While last year disrupted many traditions, this Spring we were excited to bring this one back. For many years, the 5th grade has been involved in STARBASE

As things started to open up this spring, in partnership with the STARBASE staff, we worked to ensure that all necessary safety guidelines and protocols were in place and set up an adapted STARBASE experience this year. 

Each pod took turns travelling to STARBASE for two days of on-base activities ranging from classroom learning, projects, a turn on the flight simulator and tours of the facilities and equipment (including watching jets take off!). With a focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), students had a myriad of opportunities to learn new things and apply their knowledge.  Students worked in collaborative groups working to solve complex problems and share their ideas and solutions with classmates. 

Throughout our time with STARBASE, our future rocketeers practiced each of their learner traits.  When students were asked to solve problems, they worked both individually and together demonstrating self-direction and used creative and practical problem solving to engage their own and group-mates’ informed and integrative thinking.  In small groups students shared their ideas and products with others using clear and effective communication. While working together during tours of the base and facilities, students continually demonstrated responsible and involved citizenship.

While still at STARBASE, students began working on their final projects. Then, after students returned, STARBASE staff Zoomed into classrooms to support students’ work toward their culminating project – The Rocket Launch.  In each pod, students worked with their instructors virtually, and together with table-mates to put the finishing touches on each of their rockets. 

While safety guidelines didn’t quite allow for the usual gathering of students and families for our annual rocket launch, the 5th grade still gathered together on a most spectacular Vermont spring day to send our rockets skyward.  When we got to the field, it was a little windy, but as the STARBASE staff set up the launch pads, the wind died and the clouds disappeared. Perfect launch conditions.  In each of their pods, they set up their own rocket, and worked to prepare for take-off.  Then, together as a 5th grade, students counted down and cheered together as each student took turns launching (and then chasing down and retrieving) their rockets.

Some rockets went on the first try. A few did not. But that was OK! With more creative and practical problem solving each rocket was sent skyward.  Students supported one another, the staff and our friends at STARBASE all worked to ensure that every student had a successful launch.

We learned a lot, grew our skills and had some fun. I think that we can all agree that STARBASE was a blast!

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

BFA Fairfax Music Students And Staff Demonstrate Continued Flexibility and Adaptability In Preparation For Upcoming Final Concert of the 20-21 School Year

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As we approach the end of this pandemic-altered school year, it is easy to reflect on the incredible flexibility and adaptability demonstrated by our students, staff, and programs.  The BFA Fairfax Music Department, under the leadership of Glen Wallace, Christy Maynard, Sarah Wolff, and Matt Davide, has been one such program that has created valuable learning opportunities with some of the most strict limitations throughout the school year.  Music students and staff have found immensely creative ways to share their craft with our school and community through virtual lessons and concerts, the use of bell covers for safety, and recently outdoor rehearsals.  We are pleased to share the following message from our music educators about their upcoming final concert of the year:

“The BFA Music Department is excited to invite one and all to this year’s Spring Concert, which we’re calling “A Night Among the Stars.”  Students have been hard at work mastering vocal and instrumental tunes, and we’re all eager to show off what we’ve accomplished during this hectic, bizarre, yet still musical year.  Be on the lookout for a link to a Zoom Webinar that will take place on Thursday, June 3rd, at 6:30 PM.  Hope to see you there!”

Best of luck to the students and staff in what is sure to be another stellar display of the incredible musical talents at BFA Fairfax! We hope to see you there!

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

Graduation Planning

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As we reflect back on the impact of the pandemic over the last 15 months, the area that jumps out as having been most impacted has been graduation (and all of the events leading up to it). At BFA, the high school graduation progression begins with our National Honor Society Induction ceremony in May followed shortly thereafter by the prom. The week leading up to graduation is filled with the class trip, graduation practices, Class Day, the Alumni Banquet, the actual Graduation Ceremony, and finally Project Graduation. 

For the Class of 2020, all of these events were held virtually or cancelled. Our Graduation ceremony was held in two parts: the ceremony with speeches and awards was held over zoom followed by the students coming to BFA with their families to walk across the stage to receive their diploma.  Pictures were taken and a gift bag was given by Project Graduation.  All told, the event lasted eight hours. There were some technical difficulties, but there were also many positive aspects and memorable moments that will last a lifetime.  The obvious downside was that the Class of 2020 was not able to be physically with each other for any part of the ceremony.

As we began planning for graduation for the Class of 2021, our number one priority was that the members of the class would be together at graduation.  Our vision early in the school year was the 80 graduates under the graduation tent all physically distant from each other with a live streamed ceremony for their families.  As the “spigot” opened up in Vermont, it became apparent that we could have two family members with each graduate and still remain within the guidelines as they were at that time.  When Governor Scott released the Vermont Forward Plan on April 8, we increased the number of guests for each graduate to four.  With about 80 graduates and four guests each, our crowd size would be around 400.  It’s less than we normally would have, but it’s certainly the largest group of people any of us have been with since early in 2020.

As we move toward graduation on June 12th, Vermont will be in Step 3 which will allow up to 900 unvaccinated attendees at an outdoor event.  This would allow us to increase our guests per graduate to 6 (our typical number), but if we have learned one thing during the pandemic, it’s that nothing truly goes according to plan.  We would much rather surprise families with additional seats as we get closer to graduation than have to take seats away due a sudden surge in the community. 

As for the other events that lead up to graduation, we are adjusting and adapting as we go. Class Day is typically an event for the entire high school. Parents are invited to attend as well. Since the event is typically held in our gym and visitors are not allowed in the building this year, we had to rethink the event. We will hold a Senior Award ceremony under the tent on the Friday afternoon before graduation. This will allow family members to see their students recognized for their achievements while maintaining health and safety guidelines. We will hold a virtual awards ceremony during the school day for students in grades 9 – 11.

Students have taken the lead in adapting other pre-graduation events. The junior class has organized “Prom in the Park” to be held under a tent on the town recreation field. The National Honor Society Induction will be held in the same place (sans tent). The senior class officers have organized a field day to take the place of the class trip. Their goal is to have a day together as a class that doesn’t require travel or great expense.

The Class of 2021 has endured great upheaval during the last 15 months. The health and safety guidelines continue to test our creativity as we try to finalize our plans. Our students have been resilient, cooperative and understanding through it all; our goal is to make the end of their high school years memorable and positive. They deserve nothing less.

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

We Are Looking Forward to Next Year

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This year has been a year like no other. As a learning community we have encountered numerous obstacles, adapted and reinvented many different ways that we engage in learning; demonstrating resiliency and flexibility daily.  I am so proud of our students, staff and community for their responses to this extraordinary event.

As we have been actively planning for the transition to a new school year, we asked a number of BFA elementary students what they are looking forward to most as we return to “normal.”  Check out this video with our students sharing their thoughts about returning to “Normal”:

As I have shared many times, I am so proud of our students and staff for the positivity and resilience they demonstrate each day. We have adapted and persevered through a challenging year and a half. I will never doubt the ability of our learning community to confront difficult situations and find ways to be successful. With that said, I agree with all of our students and look forward to a return to many of the things that make our school a community. 

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

CO-WRITTEN BY:
Rhonda Siemons, BFA Technology Integrationist

W.I.N. Time at Gems

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W.I.N. is the acronym for “What I Need” and there has never been a time when personalized instruction and support has been so important. Focusing on individual needs socially/emotionally and academically is critical.

Research studies indicate that the depth of learning loss throughout the pandemic has been widespread and evident as students participate in local grade level assessments. Targeted intensive instruction has proven effective and can be beneficial at all ages, but most specifically at younger ages.


The most effective programs focus on skill building, rather than homework, and occur at least once a day in addition to classroom instruction.  Students make the most progress when placed in small groups and when that instruction is provided by a highly qualified staff member. 


Gems Elementary has looked at student data, determined individual targeted skill areas and created small group instructional learning opportunities. A variety of practices to help move our students forward and to solidify skills that are foundational to future learning.


Students and staff enjoy their small educational groups with peers and love the connections and relationships that are being forged. 

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

Black History Month, Every Month

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In February, thousands of dedicated and well-meaning educators just like myself scour their classrooms and school libraries for books on Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and other famous Black Americans.  And, it’s not enough.

Rosa Parks

I fell into the trap, too, big time this year, as I visited many classrooms in my school carrying books on famous Black Americans and reading and discussing them with children as young as age three.  I even went so far as to buy four books on famous Black Americans for every student in my school to send home after I presented them in their classes.  I entered classrooms armed and ready to have courageous conversations about racism in a different way this year, more deeply than before, not to just read the books and call it a day.  I was pleased with myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and diving into this work school-wide, and I felt prepared by a barrage of professional learning aimed specifically at how to talk about race.

Late on a Thursday afternoon, I finished reading the fourth book in a National Geographic series for children on famous Black Americans to a third and fourth grade class of engaged and attentive students.  As with each of the previous books, I read the story with gusto, paused to discuss new vocabulary and the main ideas, to garner students’ thoughts on the subject and help them think critically about the material, and to check their understanding.  I had written a letter to families about each book, encouraging discussion at home, and I sent that letter home with every story.  I was pleased with myself, to say the least. Sounds great, right? And then, it all came crashing down.

“I sure am glad that we don’t have racism anymore,” one of our brightest fourth graders proclaimed. 

I was stunned, and it was in that very moment that I realized a fundamental flaw in how we teach students about racism.  Not only do we teach the concepts in isolation – often only in February when the calendar suggests – but we all too often teach about racism and discrimination uniquely as a historical problem.  My students could tell me exactly what I wanted to hear about Dr. King’s dream speech, Rosa Parks’s bravery on that bus in 1955, or how Harriet Tubman led slaves to freedom.  And, that’s where their knowledge ended.  With slavery abolished, Black Americans sitting freely on busses, and women being able to vote, my students celebrated the fact that equality reigns supreme, and that there would be no reason to even consider the lasting effects of our history, or that discrimination and racism might still plague our nation and our schools.

My heart sunk as I polled the class, asking them to raise their hands if they thought that racism still existed.  There was not a single hand in the air.  With ten minutes to spare, I tried desperately to give examples and convince the group that racism did not end with the events we had studied, and that we each need to play a part in the continued battle against modern day discrimination.  And they looked at me like I had three heads. 

I was deflated.  While I knew that sharing books and having discussions with students about historical racism wasn’t in and of itself bad, it wasn’t enough.  I had fallen short of my obligation to help them connect the historical context to the present day, and that had potentially done harm, not only to them, but to any marginalized population that still struggles with discrimination.  Passively and unintentionally, by only presenting the material in the past tense, I had led my students to believe that racism no longer exists.  I also risked some of my students not seeing themselves, and their struggles with race-related issues, in our learning.

In the coming days I worked feverishly to mend the error of my ways with individual and group conversations.  I tried desperately to help students understand that the work is not complete, that each of us needs to examine our own beliefs and how they impact others, and that racism very much still exists.  I hope they understood.  I believe they did, no matter how abstract it may have seemed.

Martin Luther King Jr.

I will teach differently next time.  I will discuss racism regularly, not just in February.  And, I will start with a modern day context and work my way back in time to help my students understand how we got to where we are.  Without question, it is important to celebrate the progress our country has made, and the brave individuals that led that work, and especially to recognize the continued work ahead.  In order to repair the damage of our history, we must first acknowledge the racism of our present. This learning is a necessary gift to all of our students, both as the future policy makers who will work to end modern day inequities, and as compassionate citizens who will lead the way in creating a world that is fair and just.

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.

GEMS Use Technology to Fabricate Frank Stella Inspired Artwork

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As part of art class with Mrs. Dorsey Hogg, 4th Grade students learned about American painter, sculptor and printmaker, Frank Stella. Students found inspiration in Stella’s minimalist work and use of technology in his design process. You can learn more about this modern artist by accessing the Frank Stella’s Retrospective Page.

The students began the design process by sketching ideas on paper. Like Stella, they used their imagination to create organic shapes that would eventually transition into their final design.

After working collaboratively together on their original ideas, students then went to work with Mr. Eric Hadd, technology integrationist to create their drawings on the computer using CorelDRAW

Next, the students sent their digital renderings to the laser cutter in the innovation lab to cut the pieces needed for their cardboard sculptures.

Finally, students were able to take a set of cutouts designed by their group and personalize the pieces for their own unique creation.

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.

Save the Date for the FWSU Community Forum

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FWSU’s Three Rs Plan: Reconnect ⇼ Reimagine ⇼ Reinvent

FWSU wants to hear from you! Join us on May 6 at 6:30pm via Zoom to share your ideas about the kind of educational experiences you want your children to have in FWSU as we look forward, together, to the 2021-2022 school year! 

*Click the image to zoom in.

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

The Show Must Go On!

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Music and the arts are an essential part of life and who we are as a BFA Fairfax community.  This month, I asked Mr. Wallace and Ms. Maynard to share some thoughts on our music program this year. I hope you will join me in thanking them (and all of our music and choral students!) for their adaptability, and for their willingness and dedication to keep music in all of our lives.

This year has seen the BFA Band program doing its utmost to be flexible and adaptive while still providing our young musicians with fun, engaging, and challenging rehearsals, working on repertoire ranging from Wind Ensemble standards to cool Bossa Novas, Frere Jacques to Star Wars, and all points between and beyond!  Thanks to the support and accommodation of our admin team, the parents of band students, and our colleagues in other subject areas, we’ve been able to roll with the many different punches this year has thrown at us, developing myriad new schedules and finding as many ways to rehearse as possible.  Most impressive throughout this process has been the way our students have continually stepped up and put in the effort they needed to, whether on Zoom, before school, or in their own practice time; without their effort, we wouldn’t have been able to find anything like the success we’ve achieved.

With all that said, the BIG NEWS, as many of you have likely heard, is that this month we’ve begun working in more and more in-person rehearsing!  While taking all the necessary precautions to do so safely, we’ve been able to get nearly all of our instrumentalists back in the band room for at least one sectional.  I can’t begin to express the joy and relief I’ve felt in finally having students making music TOGETHER, the way it’s meant to be made…and what’s even more rewarding is seeing the obvious joy our young musicians are feeling!

Looking ahead, we’re exploring options for our end of the year concert; the hope is that we might just be able to get the whole band back together for an outdoor, in-person recording session to craft a video performance for the Spring Concert (scheduled for June 3rd).  Unfortunately, the concert itself will likely have no in-person audience, but we’re extremely excited to be working with BFA Chorus program to do something a little different for this show.  Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that we’re entitling it, “BFA Music presents…A Night Among the Stars.” – Mr. Wallace

Ms. Maynard shares the following about Chorus:

As I think about our BFA Chorus students this year, a particular memory comes to mind.  One morning, at the beginning of chorus rehearsal, one of our singers wrote a quote on the board that has become our mantra:  “We’ll make it work…we always do!”  This statement embodies the attitude and perseverance of our music students this year.  Whatever has been thrown at them, whether it was singing outside while snowing, humming our parts when inside the building, playing choir chimes and Boomwhackers, or spending tons of time tapping out sight reading rhythms with drumsticks, chorus members have kept the music going.  Singers have continued to participate in “normal” activities such as auditioning for All State, even when we’re not sure what being selected will look like.  They have been very good at keeping the focus on what we can do and what the future can hold for us.

As you may know, we recently were given permission to sing inside the building with safety precautions.  The singers were so thrilled on the first day that we were able to sing together again (with lyrics and not humming) that they laughed and literally jumped up and down for joy. It was a moment that I will always carry in my heart as a reminder to never take for granted what means the most to us.  

We have been spending our time learning new pieces for our upcoming concert which will definitely be a “star-studded” event. In addition to our concert pieces, we’ve been working on a piece from the musical, “Dear Evan Hansen”.  We’ve got folk songs, a song from a movie, and even a Hall and Oates tune.  Not all of it will make the concert but we are having a blast, even taking student requests to pull pieces from past years to JUST SING!

I am so proud of our music students, the music department, our administration and classroom teachers for their flexibility and positive attitudes.  They have helped make this challenging year a year of growth and positive experiences.

We look forward to our upcoming concert on June 3rd.  Stay tuned for more information!

As the old saying goes, “If you can talk, you can sing; if you can walk, you can dance.” I am so grateful for all of our musicians for just rolling with it this year and continuing to make music.  And thank you to our music staff for continuing to support our musicians and singers to find joy and make music despite all of the tribulations of this year. And, I look forward to our upcoming performances!

…and speaking of performing arts, please remember that this weekend is the premier Help Desk!

Please read this note from the directing team of Help Desk:

We are so excited to perform our newest (virtually) LIVE show, Help Desk, this Friday and Saturday. Our cast is excited and READY! We are hoping for great audiences so we hope you are spreading the word to friends and family!

Show Times: Friday 7:00pm and Saturday 2:00pm and 7:00pm

Please visit the BFA Dramatic Arts Ensemble website to access all the Zoom webinar links to our show. 

The show is entirely free. If you feel inclined to donate, visit our Donations page and support one of the theater organizations there. The pandemic has been hard on live theater and many could use your support.  

While you are looking around our website, be sure to visit the Virtual Performance page to meet our cast members as well as the (More) Sponsors page to see the many businesses supporting our productions. 

____________________

I hope you will enjoy our performances and please have a restful and recharging April Break!

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

Other duties as needed…

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The job description for principals includes many of the tasks you would expect-supervise teachers, manage the budget, maintain student discipline- but, like every other job description, it includes “other duties as needed”. In a typical year, these “other duties as needed” might include supervising a school dance, cleaning up a hallway mess, or substituting for a teacher in an emergency. This year, two new “other duties as needed” have emerged: public health official and lunch delivery person. Both are necessary and important as we navigate through the school year in an effort to keep students and staff healthy and in school. To clarify, here are additional details to add to the principal’s job description.

Public Health Official:

Since the school closing last March, principals have worked with school nurses to better understand the health implications of the COVID-19 virus. As we planned for the return of students in the fall, we collaborated with them to make sure that our spaces were set up to allow for appropriate spacing between students, planned entry procedures (drop off and pick up routines, temperature checks), and worked together with the maintenance staff to ensure sanitation and cleaning products and processes were in place. This work was really just a variation on our regular summer planning to reopen schools. 

It wasn’t until our first positive COVID case was received that we started in the Public Health Official duty. The school nurses typically receive a call from the Department of Health regarding a positive test result. Sometimes the family may inform us directly, but our school nurses are always the first point of contact. They immediately advise the principal of the situation and we begin to work together to determine next steps. We establish when the person was last in the building and compare it to the time when they were contagious. We look at class lists and seating charts to determine who we may need to advise to quarantine. We speak to classroom teachers to determine what activities may have been occurring in the classroom as some activities (like a science lab) might require closer contact for more time. All of this information is shared with the Department of Health and we work to establish a plan. Do we need to quarantine an entire pod of students? Do teachers need to quarantine? Are buses involved? Can we keep school running as normal or do we need to go remote with certain impacted groups due to staffing needs?

Nurses Michelle Sheehan and Amy Black consulting with Principal Tom Walsh

Once we make these decisions, we start to contact families. We divide up the list and make direct calls to every family. We explain the situation, tell them dates for testing and return to school, and answer any questions they may have. Since COVID is unpredictable, we make these calls when we get information. Sometimes that means we are calling on a Saturday night, a Sunday morning, or even 5:30 on a Tuesday morning. We follow up with emails to each impacted family with the details of quarantine and then a general email to our entire school community. Throughout all of the calls we have made, families have been gracious, cooperative, and understanding. Our community knows that we all have to do our part to get through this and return to normal. 

While this duty is a new task for all of us, it has been made so much easier because of our school nurses. They have given up time on their nights and weekends to work through this process with us. Honestly, they do the majority of the work and have established a smooth process to make sure we don’t miss anything. Communicating information to families is not new for principals.  This year, as we work through the health crisis it has become a much more important and essential duty for us all.

Lunch Delivery Person

One of the guidelines for reopening schools was that school cafeterias could not be used as we normally would. We determined that students would eat their lunches in classrooms. This meant we had to figure out how to get meals to students since they were not able to access the cafeteria. We decided that principals would take on the task of delivering food. At first, it might not seem like a good use of a principal’s time, but if you consider that, in the past, we spent some portion of our day supervising the cafeteria, delivering food is not that drastic a shift.

Every day, we load up our delivery carts with (hopefully) the correct number of meals, milks, fruits and other accompanying items. The process became a little more complicated when our foodservice added additional options for students, but we worked through it!

. Mr. Brown’s Food Taxi

We move out and get the food to our students as quickly as possible. We use thermal bags to keep the hot foods hot and the cold food cold (who remembers the McDLT!). After three elevator rides and about 20 minutes, every student who needs lunch has a meal in their hands.

If I’m being honest, I prefer the food delivery option over cafeteria supervision. I get the chance to interact with every classroom and student every day in a pretty relaxed setting. I get feedback on which meals they prefer (no surprise-it’s chicken nuggets and pizza!) and, as a bonus, I get quite a few steps in along the way! 

Satisfied high school food delivery customers!

One thing that is certain about this change is that it could not have been possible without the flexibility of our teachers and staff. They have made adjustments to their day to support the students in their classrooms during what would normally be a short break in their day while students were in the cafeteria. We appreciate our staff for this and the thousands of other duties as needed they have taken on this year!

When we return to school in the fall, these two duties will certainly be reduced or removed, but there will most likely be some new “other duty as needed…” to take its place. Which, of course, is what makes the job of principal interesting, challenging, and exciting!

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

Bulletin Boards Help Tell Our Story

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As I walked the hallways of our school the other day, I was noticing and appreciating the quantity and quality of information on display throughout our school. One of the important design features of the elementary school were bulletin boards throughout our hallways. It seems simple, but bulletin boards serve many purposes. I value our staff’s efforts to consistently and effectively use bulletin boards to foster a sense of community, celebrate our students, and communicate about learning.

Our students and staff spend a significant amount of their daily time in our school building. In a sense, our school building is a second home for all of us, and similar to our own homes, is personalized through photos, art work, and family memorabilia. It seems so simple, yet it requires time, effort, and a commitment to enhance our place of learning.

I am keenly aware that our families are not able to enter our school because of the pandemic. Nonetheless, we still hold the belief that bulletin boards foster a sense of belonging in a learning community, they make learning visible by displaying student work, and make our house a home. I value all of our students for the willingness to share their learning with all of us. And a big thank you to our dedicated staff for the extra time they spend making our school an engaging and supportive learning community.

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

Scott Thompson Named New FWSU Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

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Franklin West Supervisory Union is pleased to announce that Scott Thompson has accepted a position as the new Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union, effective July 1st 2021. He will replace Linda Keating who is retiring after 6 years at FWSU.

The decision made by the Franklin West Supervisory Union Board of Directors follows a comprehensive search process which began on March 1st 2021.  A search committee was formed of superintendent, principals, content-area specialists/teachers, school board members, and FWSU staff. Following interviews, the committee identified 3 finalists out of a pool of 10 applicants. Scott Thompson was presented by Superintendent Tager to the FWSU Board and they voted unanimously to offer him a contract.

Scott Thompson is currently the Professional Development Coordinator with the Tarrant Institute for Innovation at the University of Vermont where he has served for the past 7 years.  Prior to that, Scott served as Assistant Principal/Principal at Milton Middle and High School for 8 years.  Scott received his Master of Education degree from Saint Michael’s College and completed School Leadership through the Snelling Center for Government: Vermont School Leadership Project. Scott brings over 17 years of experience in education to the FWSU team.

Upon acceptance of the Director of Curriculum position; Scott stated that he is “honored to join the FWSU team.”  The Board is confident that Scott Thompson’s extensive knowledge of curriculum and broad administrator experience make him an excellent fit for this position. We look forward to welcoming him to FWSU in July!

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

Fletcher Students Enjoy a Sweet Spring Treat

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Thanks to the generosity of several Fletcher maple producers, students at Fletcher Elementary School enjoyed a sweet treat last week. Sugar-on-snow is a Vermont March tradition, often including pickles to cut the sweet taste and raised donuts because, well, why not?

During a maple-themed school-wide event, the celebration began with two students asking maple-related trivia questions to the entire school via the PA system. Each classroom was invited to respond to one question collectively before the answer was shared with the entire school. Following the trivia, a maple-themed celebration of March birthdays was held, including a maple-themed song.

Individual classrooms shared maple-themed stories read aloud. The donated syrup was boiled down for nearly half a day before reaching the required 235 degrees, and was then ladled onto boats of snow collected by students earlier that day. Of course, the pickles and donuts were provided, too.


We would like to thank Genuine Foods for supporting this effort by ordering the pickles and donuts, boiling down the syrup, and putting the yummy goodness all together for us. We would also like to thank the following Fletcher maple producers for their donations of syrup:

Sweet Haven Farm

Shad and Melissa Minor

Marsh Family Maple

Mayotte’s

Gillilan Family Maple

The school-wide meeting was part of a monthly gathering supported by Fletcher’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) approach.

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.

Team Phoenix at GEMS Publish Book Reviews

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The team of 5th and 6th grade students participated in a three week enrichment course facilitated by GEMS librarian, Amy Rider, to develop critical reading and writing skills. At the end of the course, students published reviews as well as analyzed data to make book purchase recommendations for new library books.

The course began with students learning about all of the key components of book reviews. Each day, Mrs. Rider read picture books aloud and students discussed the elements in the books. Although often thought of books for younger audiences, these older students were able to do a deep dive into the short stories and illustrations, gaining insight for each of the books’ themes, messages, and audiences.

Next, the students were individually assigned a picture book, and were challenged to write a book review using all the skills they had recently learned. Once written, students were then paired with a student assigned the same book, to compare and contrast reviews with each other. Finally, these student pairs collaborated together using Google Docs on iPads to write a final cohesive review.

You can review the class’s book reviews in GEMS Follett Destiny Catalog (follow the instructions below for access.

  1. Click here
  2. Select Georgia Elementary/Middle School
  3. Click the Catalog tab
  4. Select Resource Lists in the left column
  5. Click ‘View’ next to the top link, 5/6 Reviews

For their final task, the students were then challenged by Mrs. Rider to review several book reviews to make recommendations of books that could be purchased by the GEMS library. Students read and analyzed reviews for over 20 books and submitted their recommendations citing facts and data from the reviews. As a result, Mrs. Rider was able to compile a list of 9 books based on the hard work and feedback of the team. In the future, these books will be purchased and added to the library, available for all GEMS students and staff.

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.

A Writer’s Sense of Place

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In February, I had the opportunity to join the 3/4 Class at Fletcher Elementary School during I Love to Read and Write Month. As a former classroom teacher and content specialist, it was an absolute delight to engage again with students and their teachers, Mrs. Locke and Mrs. Cardone, in a reading and writing activity that allowed students to make their learning personal. 

I was able to build on the big ideas of the Jump Into Writing Program that our elementary schools are working with this year, by focusing on the Launch Unit take-aways and what writer’s do. 

We started with having the students listen to my read-aloud of the story Amber on the Mountain by Tony Johnston. I chose the story because it portrays a strong sense of place. Our Fletcher students demonstrate a sense of place, that strong attachment to environment and community, in so much of their learning. It is one of the features that makes Fletcher such a special place to learn.

After listening to the story and engaging in some discussion, students followed steps to write a three line, free-form “place poem” with rich description (a key feature of the story). The purpose of the free-form poem was to tell a personal story of their own sense of place as well as a personal dream, as Amber does in the story.

Here are some of their free-form poems:

In addition, many of the students created watercolors to portray their sense of place. I was thrilled to receive some of these as gifts! I do love I Love to Read and Write Month, and this year’s experience was made especially memorable by these writers at Fletcher Elementary School. 

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

Despite the Pandemic, Our Kids Are Resilient and Growing!

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We have heard it from our state leaders. “Our kids are not OK.”  Let’s be honest, none of us are.  We are all ready to move on. This year has been hard.  That said, it is important to remember that, as Viktor Frankl said:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

While the events of the past year pale in comparison to the lived experience of Dr. Frankl, I have yet to meet anyone who would have chosen the restrictions, guidelines or other challenges that this year has brought to us.  But, when asked to reflect on the past year, a Middle School staff offered, “We have all grown so much as people.” In that vein, I am choosing to focus on some of the ways that our students have (and are) growing and showing their resilience despite (or in spite of!) the pandemic. 

Grade 5:  A Long Walk to Water

BFA MS grade five students virtually hosted author/illustrator Jim Averbeck on March 19. Mr. Averbeck illustrated the pictures for the original A Long Walk to Water, written by Newberry Award winner, Linda Sue Parks. Averbeck discussed his relationship with Linda Sue Parks,  the experiences of Salva Dut, a real life “lost boy of the Sudan”, and water borne pathogens common in Africa. Averbeck shared his stories of living as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, the symbolism involved in his drawings, and fielded questions from many curious fifth graders.

Averbeck’s visit was the culmination of the novel study in which students explored the themes of survival and perseverance, and identified character traits of the main characters.

In this experience, throughout this year, and across each room, students have become more empathic and compassionate with one another. Students continue to work together with scientists and historians to build collaboration skills and community. Students continue to be curious and questioning about the world around them while maintaining a supportive learning environment.

Grade 6: A Day in the Life

In response to my question “How are students showing us that they are, in fact alright, the 6th grade teachers shared a running observation of observed student behaviors throughout a day :

Students are greeting their teachers upon arrival at school. 

Students are asking their teachers how they are doing. It’s not only teachers doing the asking.

Students are given a structured and predictable day they can count on.

Students are racing out to recess ready for play.

They want to be the first one to grab a sled and get to the sledding hill.

Students are exploring nature. 

Students are swinging to see how high they can go. 

Students are cheering for someone who just scored a touchdown outside at recess. 

Students are setting goals and envisioning their future.

Students are engaged in math games that allow for friendly competition and connections to math concepts. 

Students are jumping out of their seats, barely able to contain themselves because their teacher just asked an intriguing question.

Students are emailing their teachers questions when they are home. 

Students are writing hello and thank you notes to their teachers on their papers. 

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Students are whispering YES to themselves after receiving successful feedback on an assessment. 

Students are asking a peer for help on a hard math problem, accepting help, and learning from one another. 

Students are learning to persevere, try, and take risks. 

Students are making a list for themselves and crossing out things to do as their day progresses. 

Students are hurrying over to their teacher to tell them about a new science fact they just learned.

Students are asking for book recommendations.

Students are asking everyday if a book has been returned because they’ve been anxiously waiting to read it. 

Students are celebrating that their picture was a winner in the winter photo contest. 

Students are complimenting each other’s outfits and new hair cuts.

Students are holding the door for their peers. 

Students are wishing each other a Happy Birthday. 

Students are joking with their teachers that they are now taller than their teacher. 

Students are writing inspirational quotes on the cover of their notebook: “Keep Hope Alive.”

Students have multiple adults that care about them each and everyday. 

Students are growing, learning, and laughing.

Grade 7 & 8: Resilience is for real!

In Grades 7 & 8, A notable benefit for many students (and their teachers) has been the smaller class sizes. As eighth Grade Science teacher, Ashley Barnes-Cota explains, this improved ratio allows her to give more one-on-one attention to her students. Eighth grade Math teacher, Dana Hamm notes that the reverse is also true – the smaller ratio makes it easier for students to focus and learn in class. Seventh grade Social Studies teacher, Jen Skerrett’s whole instructional approach has shifted to take advantage of this dynamic. With more opportunities for small group discussions and personalized learning, she explains, “everyone’s voice can be heard.” Seventh grade English teacher, Emily Wills sees this benefit occurring beyond the in-person school days as well. With the hybrid model’s online learning opportunities, some students who might be more shy in the classroom are expressing themselves unreservedly in online work. “I hear their thinking now in ways that I otherwise wouldn’t,” Wills explains. 

Alongside these deepened connections with their teachers, students are also experiencing new ways of connecting with each other. Seventh Grade Math teacher, Mr. Bailey notes that students are taking the initiative to lead their peers in group games over Zoom each Wednesday.  Grade eight Social Studies teacher, Ben Psaros adds that on ‘Zoom Wednesdays’ during virtual advisory meetings, kids show up, have fun, discuss work due, ask questions if needed, and keep connected. 

Our eighth grade ELA teacher notes that mask-wearing and hygiene protocols are all second nature to students now. Remote work is getting done, with students even asking for extension activities to fill their time.  Students are learning life skills about coping with adversity, adapting to change, organizing their own routines to be successful, and emailing teachers in a professional way.

Ms. Wilkins speaks for many of us when she says, “I’m very proud of students’ adaptability and resilience.”

In Mr. Bailey’s and Ms. Skerrett’s rooms, the A and B cohorts have taken to leaving fun scavenger hunts in the room for the other group to solve. On top of these creative social dynamics, Seventh grade Science teacher, Michelle Messier has noticed something very significant happening this year; faced with different, smaller groupings during their in-person school days, she has observed many students making lemonade, “building relationships with peers they might not otherwise have connected with.” 

In context of all that we are, and have been going through, a frame that I think of is that of a chrysalis. I think of the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies. To make this transformation, caterpillars isolate themselves in a chrysalis. I sincerely doubt that what happens in the chrysalis is a painless process as the transformation is taking place. But what emerges is beautiful and moves through the world differently than before. 

While the events of the past year are none that any of us would have chosen, every day I continue to admire the resilience, compassion and care that students show during these challenging times. We are seeing a grace, support and understanding that speaks to a growth and positive transformation in how we work together amidst (or perhaps despite) difficult circumstances that will serve all of our students (and perhaps all of us) well into the future as we re-emerge and learn to move through the world in ways different, and hopefully better, than before.

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

Vermont Schools Receive the Green Light For Spring Sports

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On Tuesday, March 23, the Vermont Agency of Education (AOE) and Vermont Principals Association (VPA) released their formal guidelines for spring sports. With the beautiful weather we’ve experienced this week, it was welcome news for BFA Fairfax student-athletes. The information is even more meaningful as our spring student-athletes have not been able to play their respective sports since the end of the 2019 school year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 spring season was cancelled. 

The State of Vermont, and specifically our BFA Fairfax community, have done an outstanding job keeping our students safe and accessing in-person learning.  Accompanying our ability to learn in person has been the opportunity to take part in co-curricular sports and activities.  We have come a long way since the beginning of the school year last September. Safety protocols have become second nature, we know so much more about the virus and how it spreads, and we are on the verge of all Vermonters aged sixteen and older having access to vaccinations. These variables all contribute to the ability to hold a spring athletic season that will look the most “normal” of any season yet this school year. 

Per the AOE and VPA release, school-based spring sports may begin practices as of Monday, April 5 (with the traditional exception for baseball pitchers and catchers who may begin skill specific training as of Monday, March 29). Games and events may begin on April 17. Just as in the fall and winter seasons, student-athletes, coaches, officials, game personnel, and spectators will be required to wear masks at all times, pass a health check prior to attending practices or events, and teams will be expected to stay physically distanced when not actively practicing or playing. As with the fall and winter seasons, all state guidelines for travel, quarantine and testing remain in place.  

BFA Fairfax’s faithful fan base will be pleased to know that at Vermont’s school-based spring sports that are played outside, spectators will once again be allowed with strict guidelines in place of mandatory masks and physical distancing.  The maximum number of attendees allowed at events is determined by state guidelines, which currently limit group size to 150. 

BFA Fairfax High School teams will begin on April 5 (with baseball pitchers and catchers starting on March 29). Our Middle School (grades 7-8) teams are expected to begin practices by the end of April, playing a modified schedule of games through the month of May, and the first week of June.

Please be sure to register on the BFA Form ReLeaf platform (shown below) ASAP so we can plan appropriately for the return of our spring sports teams! Best of luck to all!

https://app.formreleaf.com/organizations/bfa-fairfax

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

Meet Takumi

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Last February, during the annual Pink Game, a student from Richford approached me about attending BFA in the 2020-21 school year. Takumi told me he was in an exchange program and hoped to continue his education in the United States and knew that we were able to enroll students from other countries. I told him that we would be happy to have him and that we would be in touch to figure out a plan.

Takumi in his Senior Civics class (LBJ photobombing!)

Of course, this was prior to the school dismissal which changed our school and the world in general. In spite of the turmoil, Takumi stayed in touch with me throughout the spring and summer in the hope of joining us in the fall. We zoomed fairly regularly to answer his questions and update him about our return to school. In late July, it became apparent that we would not be able to have Takumi attend BFA at the start of the year given the unknowns about the virus and the conditions to return our students to school. It was a heartbreaking conversation, but we talked about the possibility of Takumi joining us in the spring semester. 

He was persistent and kept in touch with me and Director of Guidance Katherine McElroy throughout the fall. In November, we had seen success in returning our students to school and, in consultation with Superintendent Tager, we invited Takumi to join us starting in January. We started the process of government paperwork and set out to find a family willing to host him. Takumi created an introductory video which we shared over Schoology. After an opportunity to connect with Takumi, a Fairfax family agreed to host him for the semester. Takumi booked a flight, arrived in Burlington, quarantined and was able to start at BFA in early February. He joined the basketball team and hopes to be involved in other activities this spring.

To help the community get to know Takumi a little better, we asked him a few questions:

Where are you from? 

I am from Tokyo Japan 

What do you like best about Vermont? 

I like people in VT and a lot of nature so I can relax. There are not that many buildings around me so I can feel free and chilling.

What do you miss the most about Japan?

I miss food but I like American food too.

What are your favorite classes? 

I like every class but especially Senior Civics. It’s because I can get to know a lot of things which I don’t know about America.

What are your plans for next year?

Move to America to start a new life or go to college in the US. But I probably will be in the US.

What is the most surprising thing about BFA?

First of all,people are nice. Second, classes are fun.

How is BFA different from Richford High School? T

The size is pretty much the same, but I can’t really tell any other difference because due to COVID-19,there is a lot of unusual stuff.

What else would you like people to know? 

I like making new friends so feel free to talk to me!

Social Media

IG:world_taku_jp

SC:taku0508

Anything else?

I am glad to be able to become a Fairfax student!

Takumi with his host siblings, Calliope and Max

We are so glad that Takumi was finally able to join us at BFA. As much as the experience benefits him, the impact on our entire school and community is far greater!

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

Early Education and the Importance of Play

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I love the opportunities I get to spend time in our Pre-Kindergarten classrooms. The classrooms are full of laughter, movement, and energy. Our students are curious, energetic, and excited about learning. A significant component of their day centers around learning through play. 

Play is the foundation of learning for all children. We believe that play is an essential component of our children’s experience at our school. In our Pre-Kindergarten program our staff promote play and social interactions each day. According to National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), research indicates:

  1. Young children learn through play. 
  2. Play helps children learn problem solving skills.
  3. Play helps reduce stress and helps children work through complex experiences.
  4. Play helps children focus and learn executive functioning skills. 

I recently asked Ms. Caryn Zambrano, our new Pre-Kindergarten teacher, to share how our classrooms use play to facilitate learning and gain important skills.  She was generous to share the following:

How and why do children learn through play?  

When children play, they are learning and making sense of the world around them.  Before young children have words, they use their senses to learn. They taste, touch, smell, look at, and listen to everything in their world. This exploration helps young children understand how things work. If you have ever seen a little baby pick up a phone and say hello, they are mimicking what they may see a parent do. This is an early stage of play, where children act out familiar scenarios. As play progresses, children will start to create their own little play scenes.  They will switch from solitary or parallel play to cooperative play with their peers. You will start to see real scenes put into place, and more intentional play.

For example, instead of building a small tower (where a child may build it to knock it down over and over), you may see two children working cooperatively (social/emotional skills) to build a castle. During this play, you will see them planning (executive functioning skills) and negotiating what parts to include in the castle (social problem solving). You may also see some exploration about cause and effect, and learning about spatial awareness. Kids will often talk and plan about how high to build the structure, and often enjoy counting to see whose tower is taller (measurement and counting).

There are so many concepts that children are exploring and learning about for every type of play! 

How do children learn problem solving skills through play?  

Problems arise naturally when children are interacting! We see two main types of problem solving in our preschool programs: general and social. Problem solving typically happens when a child tries or can’t figure out how to do something. This type of critical thinking helps children learn to think outside the box, and helps them to anticipate new ways to do things. In preschool, one of the hardest concepts to learn is how to share. It’s something that we spend the entire year on. When a child wants to play with a toy that is unavailable, there can be a big problem! Preschool children feel everything very strongly, and have a difficult time waiting or negotiating when there is a problem. Our role as teachers is to pre-teach these skills, as well as help children take part in these challenging conversations.  

Play reduces stress and helps children cope with complex experiences: 

When you see children play, it is pretty evident that they are enjoying themselves. They will be laughing, pretending to be something, or may be concentrating and thinking about what they are doing. Play is a natural way for children to act out what they see and know. When children have an adverse experience, they figure it out during play. That is why you may see a child at the dollhouse who announces that the parents are getting divorced. They are trying to figure out what it means, and how it all works. Acting these types of events out in play is perfectly natural, and can be used as a healing experience.  

How does play help children focus and use executive functioning skills?

When a young child starts preschool, they often have a very short attention span. This is developmentally appropriate! As children gain a sense of the world around them, they start learning to attend to play for longer periods of time. Think of that example with the baby answering the phone. The baby might stay engaged for a few minutes, until they have exhausted what they know about talking on the phone.

As children get older, their play starts changing into intentional play scenes. So their play and their ability to focus changes to accommodate their new skills. Instead of play lasting a few minutes, children will play for longer periods of time. At our preschool, we change our classroom periodically to accommodate new play scenes. This year, we have had a pizza kitchen, a store, a bakery, and a gingerbread house in our dramatic play area. The kids were able to create rich scenes that lasted all of playtime. It is such an amazing transition to see!  

Play is such a natural way for children to gain knowledge about the world around them. If you would like to learn more, please check out the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) website. You can find tons of free resources and articles about play. Please take a moment to check out this cartoon that is in the back of the Vermont Early Learning Standards created by the Vermont Department of Education. It does a great job illustrating what children are learning in a preschool classroom.  

Click the photo to see the image enlarged.

GEMS Winterfest 2021

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This winter the Georgia Elementary School students have been participating in a four week long Winterfest where they were challenged to get involved in a variety of indoor and outdoor activities.  As they accomplished each challenge their classroom would earn points and the goal was to accumulate the most points throughout the four weeks.  Challenges centered around active play, problem solving activities, and community service. 

Here is a video of classrooms participating in the activities below.

Explore the Outdoors

  • Take a walk on the walking path (2 pts)
  • Borrow snowshoes from Mr. Allard and go outside to explore (3pts)
  • Identify three types of trees on the school property (2pts)
  • Build a working sundial in the snow (3pts)
  • Identify three different animal tracks (2 pts)
  • Take a photo of an animal in the snow (3pts)
  • Sit quietly in the bird sanctuary and observe the birds (1pt)
  • Visit the Buddy Bench (1pt)
  • Practice your favorite yoga pose outside (1pt)
Keeping track of points.

Snow Play

  • Build a snow creature (2pts)
  • Catch a snowflake on your tongue (1pt)
  • Make a snow angel(1pt)
  • Sled down a hill (1pt)
  • Build a snow fort (3pts)
  • Throw snowballs at the disc golf goal.  Can you get it in? (1pt)
  • Write GEMS in the snow with your feet/snowshoes (2pts)
  • Practice writing your sight words or letters in the snow (3pts)

Create

  • Create a Mascot Character profile (It could be a labeled drawing, story, list of characteristics, etc. ) (3pts)
  • Write a poem, song or story about winter (3pts)
  • Make a paper snowflake (1pt)
  • Create your own jigsaw puzzle from a winter picture (2pts)
  • Draw a map of the school (3pts)
  • Create and play a handmade board game (3pts)
  • Create a video of a touchdown dance (3pts)
  • Create your OWN activity (3 pts)
Ask a friend to play a game.
Challenge yourself with a puzzle.

Hunker Down

  • Play a board game  (1pt)
  • Have a read-in (2pts)
  • Virtually visit a zoo, aquarium, museum (1pt)
  • Do yoga or GoNoodle in your classroom (1pt)
  • Show another type of brain break your class does (1pt)
  • Make a puzzle (2pts)
  • Work together as a class to calculate how many points you could earn if you completed everything on the list (3pts)
Visiting a virtual zoo.

Give Back

  • Compost your food waste (1pt)
  • Use recycled materials to create something (2pts.)
  • Write and mail a thank you note to a local first responder or other essential worker (3pts.)
  • Pick up litter you see on the playgrounds (2pt.)
  • Donate to the food shelf or other local charity (3pts.)
  • Write a thank you note to someone in the school.  Think about people who often work behind the scenes (cafeteria, janitors, administration, nurses, etc.) (3pts.)
Thank you letter to a custodian.

As classrooms participated they needed to include a mascot of their choice in all activities while documenting through video or pictures:

  1.  Create or find a mascot with your class.  A mascot can be something your class makes or an item from the classroom. Examples include a Flat Stanley type mascot, a lego character or a mitten.  Be creative and have fun with it.
  2.  Take a picture and/or 30 second video of each activity you complete and include your mascot in the picture.    Keep track of your points 
  3. Make a recording of you introducing the Winter Fest Challenge to your class for an automatic 5 points to kick off the challenge!
Reading and playing math games with a mascot.

Teachers and students were engaged and smiling throughout selected challenges and this opportunity provided classrooms to continue building those relationships with one another that are so critically important.

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

Planning Forward with a Sense of Hope

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Through the continuing process of scheduled “Take 20 Meetings,” I am able to hear the thoughts of all employees in the Franklin West Supervisory Union.  I am renewing my sense of hope for brighter days ahead as we near the one year mark of a global pandemic.  It is an absolute pleasure to meet with dedicated employees who care deeply for students who each possess a talent or a gift. 

Lisa Wilkins, a kindergarten teacher at BFA Fairfax shared her “One Word” for the 2020-2021 school year. “Hope,” is the one word that she personally chooses to live by during a year like no other.  When I asked Lisa how the students were doing this year, she stated that her kindergarteners are exactly “where they need to be.”  She credited parents who helped to teach their children last spring when the majority of the country moved to remote learning to close out the 2019-2020 school year. 

Brittany Sweet, who teaches Pre-K at Georgia Elementary School shared that freedom of expression, creative play, and ideal learning spaces exist within the GEMS Pre-K Program. The idea of learning from play within rich Pre-K environments at Georgia Elementary, BFA Fairfax Elementary, and Fletcher Elementary will indeed pay dividends for students as they progress to Georgia Middle School and BFA Fairfax Middle and High School.

Throughout the year I have witnessed the developmental and academic growth of the students in Cathy O’Brien’s kindergarten class at Fletcher Elementary School.  The collaborative teamwork that Cathy, Kathy LeMay, and other educational professionals accomplish together is leading toward exponential growth for students. The structures and creative play within the room play a key role in leading learning forward for all students. 

Recovery Plan

A term that will soon be commonplace across the country is the idea of a “Recovery Plan.” Such plans will strategically evaluate learning that may require remediation due to potential learning loss during this unprecedented pandemic. This planning and strategizing for a recovery plan will focus on the key areas of academic, social, and emotional learning.  As this conversation starts with district administrators, principals, lead coaches, and teacher leaders, I believe the word “hope” is something for consideration.

Interestingly, across the United States over fifty percent of the students have not received in-person learning since last March of 2020. I am grateful that our kindergarten through grade six students are receiving four days a week of in-person learning, and grades seven through twelve students are receiving two days of in-person learning  within our hybrid learning model. 

I am eternally grateful to all of our employees and parents for the steadfast effort to move all students forward with their learning as we journey together toward a hope for better days ahead.

Something to Celebrate

Two BFA Fairfax seniors were recognized by the Vermont State Athletic Directors Association (VSADA) and National Interscholastic Administrators Association (NIAA) as Top Scholar-Athletes. Five male and five female student athletes in Vermont are recognized for being distinguished in scholastic, leadership, and sportsmanship attributes. Congratulations to Abigail Sweet and Jarrett Sweet for being named the top female and male recipients for the State of Vermont.

Quotable

“When people talk, listen completely.  Most people never listen.”

—Ernest Hemingway

Enthusiastically Yours,

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

Fletcher Students “Mask-Up” for the Environment

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Student artists at Fletcher Elementary School are creating their own unique face masks and supporting the environment at the same time. 

The Mask-Up Art Project encourages students to battle pollution by learning about earth-friendly sustainable transportation and representing some of their favorite ways of getting around by designing a face mask depicting eco-friendly alternatives such as walking, biking, skating, and skiing, that reduce their carbon footprint.

The project is sponsored by Way To Go Vermont, a subsidy of the Vermont Agency of Transportation, who provided the school with free cloth masks to serve as students’ canvases, along with non-toxic fabric pens to support the vibrant artwork.

“In addition to supporting students’ learning about eco-friendly ways to get around, this project made mask-wearing fun for our students and inspired some of our young artists to demonstrate their learning through their art,” third and fourth grade teacher and instructional coach, Denette Locke said.

“It served as a really creative way for our class to discuss protecting Vermont’s beautiful environment.”

The project is accompanied by a school transportation challenge, which encourages students and families to consider a variety of eco-friendly ways to get to and from school and to reduce carbon emissions, and a winter walk and bike challenge that supports active outside activities.

“Asking students to design their own masks gave them a chance to consider how their actions related to transportation can have a significant impact on the environment,” third grade teacher Tracey Godin said. “By helping students think critically about this now, we can positively impact the health of Vermont for years to come.”

“Doing art is so much fun and this art has a cause,” third grader Claire Austin said. “We need to put less pollution into the environment because too much is harmful to people and animals and plants. When I can drive a car, I am going to remember all about this and do my part to help.”

Fourth grader Bryce Wright added, “You just have to be respectful, responsible, safe and caring,” echoing the school’s school-wide rules. “You need to do all of those things outside of school, too, and take care of the environment by making the best choices you can.”

Students will wear their mask at school and throughout the community.

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

Flexible Learning Through VTVLC

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Currently over 60 students from FWSU have begun their second semester enrolled as fully remote students through a collaboration with Vermont’s Virtual Learning Cooperative, VTVLC.  These hardworking students and families are diligently working and learning through this new learning environment.

Learn. Virtually. Anywhere.

Students enrolled in VTVLC have a unique flexible learning environment this year. Students engage along with their teacher both with other students as a group as well as individually for all five days of the school week . Learning incorporates both independent learning through online modules as well as guided learning with their teachers virtually. Students along with the support of their families as coaches complete course work assigned weekly versus daily to allow more flexibility. 

FWSU maximizes flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and personalized learning opportunities for all.

The VTVLC Collaborative School Option was developed this school year to meet the needs of fully remote learning for students during COVID. The VTVLC CSO provides a fully online virtual academy for their local students.  This cooperative learning is a pool of Vermont educators from school districts across the state of Vermont who have committed to educating Vermont students online for the 2020-2021 school year.  FWSU has 4 teachers from our supervisory union diligently providing instruction and support as online virtual instructors including Mandy Alarcon, Sharon Rock, Michelle Sarnowicz, and Harold Vance. 

This program is working as a direct result of the cooperation of all the learning partners doing their part to ensure the best possible program for our students.  This would not be possible without the flexibility of the teachers, students and their families. 

Better when working together….

Co-Written By:
VTVLC online instructors — Mandy Alarcon, Sharon Rock, Michelle Sarnowoicz, and Harold Vance

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

Great Peacemakers

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Prologue: I recently attended a Zoom session featuring the Peacemaker Projects of grade 7 students at BFA Fairfax. This joint effort between Emily Wills and Jennifer Skerrett featured an authentic humanities approach to what it means to be a peacemaker. The intersection of transferable skills, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and thematic humanities is a hallmark of FWSU’s commitment to innovative, personalized learning opportunities that integrate a global perspective.

Linda Keating, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union.

The Great Peacemakers

7th graders at BFA Fairfax recently completed their cross-curricular unit on Transferable Skills and The Global Goals for Sustainable Development.  Jenn Skerrett (social studies), Emily Wills (English language arts), and Ethan Wise (Teacher Apprenticeship Program intern) worked together to support students’ exploration of these two important areas of learning.  

In 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals to help make the world a better place.  By 2030, the Goals hope to end poverty, fight inequality and address the urgency of climate change.

Meanwhile, in 2016 the Vermont Agency of Education put forth five overarching Transferable Skills to cut across content areas and complement the new proficiency-based graduation requirements.  The Skills are:  clear and effective communication, creative and practical problem solving, informed and integrative thinking, responsible and involved citizenship, and self-direction.

Over approximately 10 in-person class days, the 7th graders read the book Great Peacemakers by Heather Chase and Ken Beller.  This nonfiction text covers 20 people who have all taken different pathways to peace:  choosing nonviolence, valuing all life, honoring diversity, caring for the planet, or living peace.  

Students then selected one peacemaker to study more in-depth, and created a presentation to connect that peacemaker to the Transferable Skills and The Global Goals.  Then, they extended their thinking outward to link their peacemaker’s mission to an ongoing cause today.

In the past, Mrs. Skerrett and Mrs. Wills have combined their classes for this project and done presentations in a mixed group.  This year, COVID-19 protocols forced them to be creative.  While keeping their pods safe and separate, the teachers used Zoom to allow students in different classrooms to watch each other present and see each others’ slideshows.  This also made it possible for FWSU Curriculum Director Linda Keating to join the audience for some of the speeches.

7th grader Emma Foster said of the project, “it gave me a chance to learn about someone I had no idea existed.  I found it fun to speak in front of people about things I learned.  It let me put two concepts together, and connect Transferable Skills and Global Goals to Oscar Arias.  I really liked it.” 

Co-Written By:

Emily Wills, Grade 7 Language Arts Teacher at BFA Fairfax

&

Jennifer Skerrett, Grade 7 Social Studies Teacher at BFA Fairfax

Enjoy the break and Take Care of Yourself and Your Family!

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In more usual times, February break is a time for escape and recharging. For some, it is a time to get out on the ice and fish, go for a ride on the snow machine, or travel someplace warm.  This year, as we all know far too well at this point, is different. With the restrictions that the pandemic has imposed on us around who we can and cannot see, and where we can (and more often) cannot go, many of our usual routines are going to be different this February break.

However, as we head into the upcoming week, many of us have more time on our hands than usual; and with that I offer some resources and reminders about taking care of yourselves and your families. COVID fatigue is a real thing and it is too easy to get frustrated and “forget” the guidelines that we all have been working so hard to follow when our routines are upended (even by a vacation).

I was recently reminded of a conversation I had shared with Dr. Joelle Van Lent, PsyD in December about supporting our young people during these hard and often unpredictable times.  We divided this conversation into two 10 minute chunks. The first is about routines and supporting remote learning.  The second is about supporting our young people with worry and uncertainty about our situation. 

On February 15, 2021 we hosted an open workshop with Dr. Gillian Boudreau focused on helping your child manage anxiety. While we are unable to provide a recording of this session, we are happy to share several resources from this workshop.  We also highly recommend Dan Siegel’s and Tina Bryerson’s book: “The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired.”

Also, I would be remiss if I did not include our fabulous BFA Nurses’ Newsletter.  Michelle, Amy and Nicole are constantly keeping us updated and informed on the latest news.  Their professionalism, tireless dedication to keeping our students and all of our staff safe (at all hours and through too many weekends to count) are legion. 

Nurse Amy Black caught mid-errand between buildings.
Nurse Michelle Sheehan supporting our elementary students and staff.
Nurse Nicole Ducharme keeping us informed about health updates and supporting our students.

“I would like to remind everyone to keep up all the good work they are doing: hand-washing, keeping distance, wearing their masks. We have noted that this helps keep us safe from Covid but also has kept the normal winter illnesses down. Mask on faces, six foot spaces, uncrowded spaces!”

—Nurse Amy Black

Please be safe during this break, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter. As always remember to wear your masks, keep your distance, wash your hands, and just hunker down and find joy in what we do have in our immediate surroundings.  We just need to hang on a little longer so that we can all come out of this together. 

Be well, take care and enjoy the February respite.

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

BFA FAIRFAX Seniors Recognized as VSADA and NIAAA Top Scholar-Athletes

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Each year the Vermont State Athletic Directors Association (VSADA), in coordination with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA), awards ten scholarships to five male and five female senior student-athletes in Vermont. These scholarships “recognize the distinguished scholastic, leadership and sportsmanship attributes of high school student-athletes, and the importance of high school athletics in each student’s life” (NIAAA, 2021).

We are extremely proud to announce that BFA Fairfax Seniors Abigail Sweet and Jarrett Sweet have not only been selected as two of this year’s NIAAA and VSADA scholarship winners, but have also been named the top male and female recipients for the State of Vermont. 

They are the first students at BFA Fairfax to receive this top designation. 

Abigail and Jarrett’s applications will be forwarded to a regional selection committee where they will be evaluated among the state winners from the Northeast region, and ultimately among the top recipients from each of the 50 states to determine the 2021 National winners.  

In addition to their academic accolades and athletic talents, the scholarship committee took note of the extraordinary commitment to student leadership organizations and service initiatives demonstrated by both Jarrett and Abigail.   

As part of the application process, both Abigail and Jarrett wrote essays on the impact of high school athletics on their lives.  

“High School athletics has given me a platform to find the greatest qualities in myself that I want to see projected into the world.”  –Abigail Sweet

“The impact that sports have had on my life is irreversible.”  –Jarrett Sweet

BFA Fairfax is extremely proud of Abigail and Jarrett, and we congratulate them on this well-deserved award and honor.  We will all be rooting for them in the next stage of the NIAAA Student-Athlete Scholarship process! 

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

GEMS Student Works to Launch New School Weather Station

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This year GEMS  middle school students are getting more outdoor recess.  Each grade level is scheduled for a full 30 minutes of fresh air, movement, and social interaction. It is great to get outside, but it is winter, and this is Vermont. It gets cold and windy out there. Some days the weather just doesn’t cooperate and students need to have their recess indoors. To make this determination GEMS follows guidelines provided by the Vermont Principals Association for outdoor activities. When the “feels like” temperature or wind chill falls below zero degrees fahrenheit, it is no longer considered safe for outdoor activities. 

Until recently a windchill temperature reading was only available as reported online or on other media based on temperature readings  from other  locations.  Our school and playgrounds sit on a windy hillside and conditions may change drastically hour by hour.  For this reason it seemed like collecting our own weather data was long overdue. 

Middle School Principal Julie Conrad  initiated the discussion about involving students and the GEMS Innovation Lab in the project and soon a plan began to unfold. The school purchased an Acurite weather station and recruited 8th grade student Logan Grimm to collaborate with the Information Technology ( IT) and Maintenance Departments to get it up and running. 

Logan worked with John Picanza from the IT department to unbox, assemble the unit and connect it to the internet.  The station was then tested on a temporary basis for a full week. Finally, having proven reliability, GEMS Maintenance Staff Pete Metcalf installed a pole for permanently mounting the weather station by the Middle School playground.  After the pole was installed Mr. Clow, technology integrationist, then performed the installation. Throughout the process students and teachers collected video and pictures. Logan then used the media to create a GEMS TV feature video to showcase the entire project. 

In a very short time it has become routine for members of the school community to check the weather station data posted on the GEMS website! 

Logan’s Reflection on the weather station project:

The reason I wanted to work on this project is because I thought it would be a fun project and it was. 

I also wanted to work on this project because I like to take apart electronics at home and fix them and clean them up.  

I would say the most challenging part of the weather station project was connecting it to the internet. The reason is it seemed like every time it was trying to connect it failed the test. The way we solved the internet problem is we kept trying. At one point we glitched the app and got an error code. When we exited the error screen it automatically connected to the internet. 

I think it would be very helpful for families to have GEMS weather open at home so kids know, before they come to school, what the weather is at the school and wear the right gear. It is good to know the real temperature at school because below zero is too cold for recess. It could be warmer or colder at another weather station. 

I wanted to make a video of the process because I thought it would be a fun little video to put on GEMS TV to share with others. I have worked on GEMS TV for 2 years and  enjoy my innovation lab classes.  

Link to GEMS Weather Station Data 

Link to Logan’s Video

It’s Budget Season

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One of the things I appreciate most about living in Vermont is the changing of the seasons. I’m referring to the changes that occur in our landscape and lifestyles as we transition from winter to spring to summer to fall and back again. There’s an old joke that says that “Vermont has three seasons-winter, mud season, and the Fourth of July!”

As a school administrator, I want to shed light on an additional season that we experience every year – budget season!

Budget season typically begins in late October, but sometimes, during challenging financial times, it can begin shortly after students return to school in late August. Although the next school year is still months away, the budget needs to be finalized before the end of January, so administrators have to begin to think about what they might need or want for the next school year shortly after the current year starts.  

The process begins with a look at the cost of continuing all of our current programs and services. Increases in wages, insurance, maintenance and energy costs as well as decreased costs due to retirements, projects, or other efficiencies are taken into account as we develop our first draft of the budget. As a result of this work, we are able to calculate the percentage increase in spending needed to open school during the following year. While the dollar amount and percentage of increased spending are important, the calculation that most impacts families is the tax rate. The tax rate is calculated using the overall expenses, the number of “equalized” pupils, the yield rate and the common level of appraisal (CLA).  These numbers are determined by the State of Vermont and are released and adjusted throughout the budget process. In our early calculations, we use last year’s figures or our best estimates to arrive at a potential tax rate which shows the potential impact on homeowners in our town. 

This “level services” budget is shared with the School Board during a November meeting. The board looks at the information presented and considers the needs of the students and the potential burden on the taxpayer. Depending on the information, they will ask the administration to make recommendations for additional needs or for suggestions to reduce the overall expense for discussion at the next month’s board meeting. 

The administration works to meet the requests of the board over the next month. At the same time, the State releases information that makes the tax implication more clear. The “equalized pupil” rate is based on the number of students in our school. Students of different ages are weighted differently based on a formula developed by the state. We calculate our per pupil rate by dividing our expenses by the number of equalized pupils. The cost per equalized pupil and the percent change from the previous year are the numbers that appear on the ballot when our citizens vote on our annual budget. In recent years, BFA has seen a steady increase in the number of students and thus, an increase in equalized pupils.

The tax rate is determined using the cost per pupil and the yield rate. The yield rate is set by the state and basically represents the value of an educational dollar at a consistent rate throughout the state. The greater the yield rate, the lower the tax rate. Throughout this year’s budget cycle, the rate changed several times, but, fortunately, always to a higher amount. 

The Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) is a calculation meant to provide a consistent home valuation across the state and adjust the tax rate. If the tax value determined by the town’s listers is aligned with the real estate value of the property, the CLA is 100% and the town’s tax rate is unchanged. If there is a disparity between listed value and real estate value, the percentage decreases, which increases the tax rate. This year, the CLA in Fairfax is 85.93% which caused an upward adjustment in our tax rate.

Given all of that background information, what does our BFA budget look like this year?

We were able to create a level services budget for the FY22 school year. The school board and administration are confident that our present level of services and programs will support the needs of our students.

The Town Meeting ballot will ask:

Shall the voters of said school district approve the school board to expend $14,636,092 which is the amount the school board has determined to be necessary for the ensuing fiscal year?  It is estimated that this proposed budget, if approved, will result in education spending of $14,589.86 per equalized pupil.

This projected spending per equalized pupil is 2.29% higher than spending for the current year.

If approved, the tax implications for Fairfax homeowners will be approximately (prior to income sensitivity property tax adjustments):

Budget season wraps up with voting on Town Meeting Day, March 2, 2021. You can vote in-person (at BFA Fairfax from 7am-7pm) or request a mail in ballot from the Town Clerk’s office (call 849-6111). I hope that this information is helpful. Please reach out to any administrator or School Board member with your questions.

Once budget season is over, mud season can’t be far behind!

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

Never Underestimate Students

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I am constantly reminded about the resiliency of our students. Each day they come to school with a positive mindset, a willingness to be flexible, and the skills to adapt to this COVID-19 learning environment. Prior to the start of school, I wondered how students would be able to navigate all of the processes and procedures required to keep all of them safe. However, on that first day of school I was immediately reminded that, “we should never underestimate our students!”

As much as our school day is different as a result of COVID-19, there are many things that are the same. I spent the last few weeks looking for evidence of our students engaged in learning, play, and being part of our community. I observed many examples of our students demonstrating their resilience, kindness, and positivity.

Although on the surface school seems so different, my observations reminded me that our students still engage in being creative during Art, Music, and Physical Education classes:

Our students still have breakfast and lunch, but this happens in our classrooms. We wear our masks and wash our hands often:

We still have Morning Meeting, engage in wellness, mindfulness, and have classroom celebrations for demonstrating our school wide expectations:

Our students still engage in Literacy, Math, STEM/SS:

We still go outside for recess and enjoy winter time in Vermont:

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Finally we practice kindness and having a positive growth mindset so we can persevere through hard times. Even when we must learn remotely, our community adapts to this challenge.

I am so proud of our students, our staff, and our community for continuing to be flexible, supportive, resilient, and strong. The experience of navigating COVID-19 constantly reminds me that “we should never underestimate our students!

Be well.

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

STEM at Georgia Elementary School

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STEM is an interdisciplinary and applied approach that keeps students engaged and learning through a “plan, design, and improve” method of solving a problem. Throughout this flow students apply their current knowledge, build and test their thinking, and then make improvements from information they’ve attained.

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

The incorporation of these content areas along with “problem-solving” questions provides a great learning opportunity for students that becomes engaging, collaborative, and thought-provoking.


In the video linked below, students are discovering forces and interactions in the “light bulb lab”.  As they create and implement their own tests they incorporate new learned vocabulary words, such as friction, gravity, incline and motion, into their discoveries and understanding. 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ny6d81ri04Bq-tI4R7Kudw5ZyekUSZ7E/view?usp=sharing

Working kinesthetically provides a deeper knowledge of these terms and how they interact and affect one another. 

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Students collaboratively plan, discover, and share their learning with peers.

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  “I noticed, the heavier the object the more friction was applied”

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“I noticed each object created a different amount of friction”

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“Gravity’s pull on objects is increased as the incline increases”

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

The Importance of Student Voice

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As Superintendent serving the Franklin West Supervisory Union, I feel compelled to offer my thoughts on the Insurrection at the United States Capitol on January the 6th, 2021.  This is my 39th year as an educator and life-long learner.  As I watched the mob in support of the 45th President commit violence, destruction, and death to five Americans including a police officer at “The People’s House”, the news commentary continually referred to this chaotic scene with the word surreal.  On a personal level I would describe what I saw as horrific, to the incomprehensible level that when I attempted to discuss this event with our leadership team two days later I broke into tears unable to carry the conversation.  Fortunately our middle and high school principals were able to share the content of conversations that students shared utilizing a “student voice” supporting democracy.

As a life-long educator and learner it never fails to surprise me as to how powerful, intelligent, and thoughtful the student voice resonates, even in the eye of hateful speech and actions that defy any measure of human decency.  I am uplifted by administrators, teachers, staff, parents, and students who in the face of this unthinkable occurrence that the world is observing, strive to help our schools become incubators of inclusion and justice. 

Never underestimate the power of student voice.  Last spring our high school students with the thoughtful guidance from significant adults in the building formed the BFA Fairfax Racial Justice Alliance.  I realize the privilege that I have been afforded and applaud our students for taking a stand against systemic racism.  My belief is that all teachers (not just social studies teachers) can assist by engaging in meaningful dialogue to support the value of having a democratic school.  Elementary teachers, unified arts teachers and athletic coaches can provide important lessons on the art of winning and losing with sportsmanship and dignity.  Additionally, as a community of educators we can all assist to teach and model the tenets of purposeful debate.

In conclusion, I implore all stakeholders to reflect on the unseeable images that we witnessed to grow and learn cohesively as a caring community for our children, who learn from our words and actions.  One of the images that is unfortunately and indelibly in my memory is the photograph of a member of the mob carrying a confederate flag inside the United States Capitol.  If you look closely at that photo, in the background you will see a portrait of Senator Charles Sumner who was an abolitionist leading up to the Civil War.  Sadly history has a bad habit of repeating, Senator Sumner’s birthdate is the same as the Insurrection at “The People’s House” on January the 6th,1811. 

Quotable

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Enthusiastically Yours,

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

Celebrating Fletcher’s School Counselor: Lisa Coale

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February 1-5, 2021, is National School Counseling Week. The theme of this year’s celebratory week is, “School Counselors: All in for All Students!” The goal of the week is to focus public attention on the unique contribution of school counselors within U.S. school systems.

According to the website of the American School Counselor Association, “National School Counseling Week highlights the tremendous impact school counselors can have in helping students achieve school success and plan for a career.”

School counselor, Lisa Coale, came to Fletcher in 2019, following counseling internships at JFK Elementary School in Winooski and Colchester Middle School in Colchester. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Religion and Islamic studies with a minor in Arabic from Middlebury College and a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Development with a focus on school counseling from George Mason University. Ms. Coale worked as a kindergarten partner teacher for D.C. Public Schools before beginning her journey as a counselor.

In addition to serving as Fletcher’s school counselor, Ms. Coale also serves as the school’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) coordinator. In this role, she supports students and staff in establishing, teaching, and practicing school-wide expectations, analyzing behavior data and facilitating school-wide celebrations. 

We want to thank Ms. Coale for all of her hard work by letting her know a few words that our classes believe describe her:

Preschool: You are nice. You have a nice smile. You have fun with us. We learn things from you. 

Kindergarten:  We like your puppets. You teach us good things. You help us know how our friends feel. You do fun stuff with us. You have good songs. We love you.

First Grade: You are kind. You are a good teacher. You are sweet and good and the best. You are respectful and solve problems. You are caring, safe and responsible.

Second Grade: You are awesome. Thank you. You are kind. You are the best. We are proud of you. You are nice and helpful and hilarious. You are spunky and energetic.

Third Grade: You are kind, caring, respectful and safe. You are helpful and thoughtful You are sweet, lively and strong.

Third and Fourth Grade: You are nice. You are caring and kind. You are very helpful and loving and respectful. We are joyful because you are joyful.

Fifth and Sixth Grade: You are thoughtful, helpful and kind. You are caring and super flexible. You are empathetic, respectful and you follow all of the schoolwide expectations. 

“I feel so very fortunate to work with a supportive, collaborative and dedicated professional like Lisa Coale,” art teacher M.C. Baker said. “She is incredibly creative and flexible and always puts the needs of students and families first. She is a role model for all of us and she has been a shining light amidst a challenging year.”

“Lisa has a real gift for engaging students,” third grade teacher Tracey Godin said. “She is lively and energetic and knows just what to say and do to motivate students and help them gain the skills they need to be successful across settings. She not only teaches students, she leads by example.”

Thank you for all you do, Ms. Coale. We appreciate you and are grateful for your hard work!

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

Student Perspectives on Coming Back to School 4 Days Per Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GEMS TV EXPRESS Creates Cricut Design Videos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Auditions…On Camera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We hope to “see you” at the show!

QR Code to access the show website.

This blog was written by BFA Fairfax‘s:

Georgia Students ZOOM with NASA’s Astronaut, Zena Cardman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Callie Beyor asking Astronaut Carman a question.

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

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

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

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

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

Grade 3/4 Hunger Walk

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

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

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

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

“We support zero hunger!”

“We are making a difference.”

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

Our teachers are helping us change the world”.

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

This blog was written by:

School Culture and a Sense of Belonging

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

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


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


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

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

It has been a great week for outside learning opportunities!

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

Keeping us Whole

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

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

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

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

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

Here are just a few of the alignment highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

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

Fletcher Students Complete Community Service to Support Children and Families

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Year, New Opportunities

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Moving Forward

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

Bright Spots

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

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

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

Happy Holiday Season

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

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

Charles Dickens

Enthusiastically Yours,

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