THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Welcomes Incoming Sixth-Graders to Middle School with Orientation Guide

BFA Fairfax sixth-graders were off to a great start this fall and spent a lot of time learning the routines and expectations of middle school. Moving from the elementary building to the middle school wing can sometimes be a little intimidating, so the sixth-grade staff always takes it slow at the beginning of the school year to ensure a successful transition.

New sixth graders are welcomed with an orientation presentation designed by their peers and teachers.

New sixth graders are welcomed with an orientation presentation designed by their peers and teachers.

Four students who registered just as school started were a part of this process and received the benefit of our beginning-of-the-year activities. After about a month into the school year, the sixth grade received several new students and teachers and students did our best to make the new students feel welcome. However, after a couple of days, we realized a few things had been forgotten here and there and wanted to do more to help our new students feel more confident and successful with their transition.

Students greet incoming sixth graders.

Welcoming new incoming sixth graders.

Librarian overview

Providing information to new students on how to navigate resources such as the library.

Mrs. Carpenter met with the most recent “new to BFA student” and a couple of other sixth-grade peers to brainstorm the issue. It was decided that we needed a better, more personalized orientation guide to provide to students and families when a new member joins our grade, in addition to the Middle School Handbook.

Getting comfortable with lockers just takes a bit of practice. Here are some instructions to get started.

Getting comfortable with lockers just takes a bit of practice. Here are some instructions to get started.

Peyton Metruk and new student Hailey Shoram took on the project and immediately jumped in with many new creative and outstanding ideas. The two students tailored the orientation guide to the BFA Fairfax middle school and collaborated with Melinda Carpenter (6th Grade Science/Geography Teacher), Principal Tom Walsh, and Nichole Wehman (5-8 Guidance Counselor) to make sure they included everything a new student may need to know or wonder about coming to Fairfax.

Introduction to Science & Geography with Mrs. Carpenter.

Introduction to Science & Geography with Mrs. Carpenter.

Peyton and Hailey questioned each other, peers and adults that support the 6th grade, independently problem-solved and checked in with Mrs. Carpenter for feedback, and then made improvements. Both students demonstrated a high level of leadership by making appointments with staff for pictures and interviews, learning new technology, and by holding themselves accountable for high-quality work with notes and checklists. Peyton and Hailey used excellent communication and presentation skills to complete the 42 slide project and Peyton spent many hours of time outside of school to ensure exceptional quality, a testimony to her dedication and engagement.


The overview also included details about school lunch.

Specifically, the Google Slides orientation will be used to introduce new students to teachers, learning spaces, expectations, unified arts, voice levels, field trips, flexible learning opportunities, and much more around BFA Fairfax. Toward the end of their work, Mrs. Carpenter asked Hailey and Peyton to reflect on the experience. Hailey, our new student, thought the project really helped her get to know the sixth grade even better and thinks it is a great resource for new kids coming to Fairfax.

Unified arts opportunities like chorus and music were also featured in the presentation.

Unified arts opportunities like chorus and music were also featured in the presentation.

Peyton described her excitement at working on a project that enriched her writing and communication skills, which are personal goals for her. When asked about which step in FWSU’s Action Plan best demonstrated her work with the project, Peyton identified Leadership and Flexible Learning Environments as clear indicators of her engagement in the BFA Fairfax Sixth Grade Orientation Guide. Many thanks to Peyton and Hailey for an excellent and informative resource that BFA’s staff will use for many years to welcome new students!

THE FWSU STORY: Students Design Solutions to Water Bottle Waste Problem

For the seventh grade Project Based Learning class, the students and teacher, Mrs. O’Brien, talked about ways of reducing waste and that one of the big things is water bottles that go into landfills and litter our roadways. Team building activities that centered on our environment were done the first week.


Students collaborate and explore creative solutions.

The next couple of week’s teams were formed and each team started to design a water bottle to be judged by the eighth grade.

Promotional poster designed by students.

Students share their innovative design in a poster.

The teams went to the Innovation Lab and used Tinkercad to produce scaled-down versions of our water bottles and printed them on the 3-D printer.

Students design their solution in the Innovation Lab.

Students design their solution in the Innovation Lab.

Labels were then designed and the winning design was sent to Zazzle, a company that personalizes items.  Each person in the class received a water bottle matching the winning design.

THE FWSU STORY: Educators Develop Innovative Professional Learning Practice

Identify-Learn-Improve cycle

Several teachers from all 3 schools are wrapping up their graduate-level professional course offered by FWSU. In the Innovation Mindset Through Collaborate Apprenticeship course, teachers explored ways to incorporate innovative ideas to improve learning.

Innovators Mindset by George Couros book cover

Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

Throughout the course, teachers were challenged to actively design an innovative learning practice for implementation. Participants began by identifying an authentic, practical innovation practice for their own instructional setting that connected with a personal set goal. After some research, teachers selected an idea they wanted to deepen their learning about and agreed to develop a plan through a coaching partnership with the instructor.

All of the learning was completely personalized for each teacher. Instead of meeting in traditional sessions, teachers organized their course schedule around research, planning, implementation, and reflection. A variety of amazing new learning activities developed as result.

In the end, the participants collaborated with colleagues and the instructor to share their creative learning ideas, and most importantly, develop emerging strategies for innovation!

THE FWSU STORY: Classroom Meetings Build Community, Academics in Fletcher

Classroom meetings have long been a tradition in schools. Most commonly, Morning Meeting is an opportunity for all students in a classroom to gather with their homeroom teacher for community-building and the teaching and practicing of both academic and social skills. Typically, these classroom meetings take place first thing in the morning, setting a positive tone for the day and lending predictability and routine for students by reviewing the day’s schedule. The Responsive Classroom approach to Morning Meeting details four specific components that must be present: a Greeting, Sharing, Activity and News and Announcements chart.

A greeting is an important part of Morning Meeting.

A greeting is an important part of Morning Meeting.

The Greeting component of Morning Meeting promotes a sense of inclusion, importance, and belonging. Every child and adult is greeted by name and all students are able to see each other, typically sitting in a circle in the classroom meeting area. The Greeting is infused with countless social skills such as learning a proper handshake, making eye contact, and practicing appropriate voice and tone. Greetings range in complexity based on grade level and time of year. As students grow more comfortable with their peers, the Greeting includes increased risk-taking (i.e. shaking hands vs. simply saying hello.) Greetings also often incorporate academic skills. For example, a child may greet a classmate by name, followed by reciting a multiplication fact. Greetings are often themed, as could be the case if a teacher asks students to greet a classmate and then tell them the name of one state in the US. Greetings, as well as the other components of Morning Meeting, are adaptable to any skill – social or academic – chosen by the teacher.

Students enjoy music during Morning Meeting.

Students enjoy music during Morning Meeting.

The Activity component of Morning Meeting, while continuing to reinforce academic and social skills, often focuses on cooperation amongst members of the larger classroom group. The Activity is often a game and may involve listening, strategizing and working together toward a common goal. Students learn important skills for supporting each other and persistence, and these skills carry over into other school and home settings.

Students read a Morning Meeting greeting.

Students read news and announcements during Morning Meeting.

Giving students an opportunity for Sharing lets them know that they have something important to say and that they are valued. It affords the student a chance to practice public speaking and all of the skills associated with that. Typically, classmates ask questions or make comments to the person sharing. Often, these conversations give the student sharing a great deal of practice backing up their share with specific details. This skill frequently carries over into academics like writing, where details are essential. Sharing may be news that is lighthearted or serious. It allows students to practice socially appropriate responses to a variety of events. Preferably, students share news verbally, rather than physical objects. However, as students learn the routine these props can be helpful.


Students also engage in sharing during Morning Meeting.

The News and Announcements chart – also frequently called the Morning Message – is an interactive document usually written by the teacher. Students are typically asked to respond to a prompt or solve a problem. This allows them to share information about themselves (i.e. Do you have a dog?) or showcase their academic skills or thinking. The Morning Message also orients the class to the daily schedule and any changes in routine, such as special events. Students read the Morning Message upon entering the room, even before the meeting begins.

Morning Meetings are a fantastic opportunity to showcase student leadership, particularly for older students. With support, students can write the message, lead the activity or facilitate the sharing.


Ms. Locke shares with the class.

The importance of Morning Meeting necessitates that all students are at school on time each day. It teaches and reinforces important academic and social skills. It orients students to the schedule and creates a sense of importance and belonging. Missing Morning Meeting can cause undue stress and cause students do not have information that is given to the general group.

Mornings are fun at Fletcher Elementary!

Mornings are fun at Fletcher Elementary!

While Morning Meeting is the cornerstone – a daily occurrence – of classroom meetings, many classrooms also conduct a closing meeting or problem-solving meeting, when needed. Closing meetings are typically held at the very end of the school day and give students an opportunity to reflect on the day, how the group worked together, and on their individual successes and challenges. Frequently, the class and/or individual students set goals for the following day. It continues to build community, but is less formal and typically last for less time than Morning Meeting.


Preschool students in Ms. Hurt’s class enjoy Morning Meeting.

Problem-Solving Meetings are conducted on an as-need basis. They gather the entire class in an effort to address systemic challenges and plan for the groups’ success. These meetings encourage collaboration, peer support, honesty, respect, and envisioning an approach to create future success. During these meetings, the teacher (or sometimes students) facilitate and ensure a respectful, caring approach.

Classroom meetings are a great tool for building community and supporting academic and social skills development. 


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

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Senior Shannon Mahoney Named Vermont Presidential Scholar

On January 8th, the recognition ceremony for Vermont’s Presidential Scholars was held at the Statehouse in Montpelier. Governor Phil Scott welcomed the students and recognized their contributions to their schools and communities as well as their commitment to learning. Among those honored was Bellows Free Academy Fairfax senior Shannon Mahoney.

Governor Phil Scott

Governor Phil Scott announces Vermont’s Presidential Scholars.

Shannon was one of the 20 students selected from the many nominees across high schools in Vermont. Shannon’s work at BFA Fairfax on the Farm to School project is well documented and was certainly a part of her qualification and selection, but there are so many more attributes that make her a worthy recipient of this honor. Shannon represents BFA Fairfax through her academic excellence and participation in a variety of extracurricular activities that benefit our students and community.

Shannon Mahoney, Vermont Presidential Scholar

Shannon Mahoney, Vermont Presidential Scholar

Shannon has been a committed athlete throughout her years at BFA. She has played soccer and skied with our Nordic Ski team. This year, Shannon is the captain of the Nordic Team. Shannon has served as an officer and leader in student government as well. Every year she has been either a class, student council, or National Honor Society officer (and even held multiple offices simultaneously at times). Shannon has been a member of Peer Support, helping other students in need. Of course, Shannon was also the founder and president of the Farm to School Club.

Shannon balances her academics, participation, and leadership with a strong desire to prepare for her future. She has attended the National Youth Leadership Forum in medicine and is currently working towards her LNA certification at the Northwest Technical Center. Shannon plans to continue her education and pursue a career in nursing.

Shannon Mahoney and family.

Shannon Mahoney pictured with her family.

BFA Fairfax is honored to join the Vermont Agency of Education and Governor Scott in honoring Shannon as a Vermont Presidential Scholar. Shannon Mahoney exemplifies the spirit of learning at BFA and is truly a kind, caring, nice and deserving young person.

BFA Fairfax is proud of you and your accomplishments, Shannon!

THE FWSU STORY: Rethinking New Year’s Resolutions – Say Hello to Lifestyle Change in 2018

Want to be successful in keeping your resolutions this year? Then don’t make any!

quit making new year's resolutions

Instead, replace the January-New-Year’s-Resolutions ritual with a long-term plan for accomplishing your goal, which, for most of us is probably a lifestyle change.  Even if your goal is to buy a luxury car or the latest technology tool, it still might mean a lifestyle change to get that new car or technology.

long term goalsTo get started, make a list of what you want to do in 2018. 

Some examples might be:

  1. Achieve a healthy weight
  2. Stop buying daily double lattes
  3. Exercise before going to work
  4. Work only 40 hours a week
  5. Spend the entire weekend with family and friends

make a long term plan

Next, look at the list and make it manageable; you’ve got 365 days to work on a doable plan!

  1. Lose 3 pounds a month
  2. Save _____ each month (your double latte $)
  3. Spend 30 minutes a day doing an enjoyable physical activity
  4. Work more efficiently (Eat the Frog First)
  5. Balance weekend time among family, friends, and self-care

So, now that you have some items to address on your list, it’s time to prioritize them!  For example number 3, 2, 5, 1 (taken from above).

You’re ready to make a long-term plan!

  • Choose two or three priorities and develop a plan that includes a checklist to make parts of your plan visible so you can see your progress. For example, spend 30 minutes a day doing an enjoyable physical activity.
  • What NEED are you trying to fill? Are you doing it to become more fit, toned, balanced, relaxed, to de-stress?

Make a plan today

Calendar Map your Plan

Weeks 1 – 3:  Explore some gyms, workout classes, videos (check them out online), talk to friends and join them for a class. Maybe you don’t like classes or exercising with others, you could try an outdoor sport. DON’T OVERCOMMIT: This is not the time to sign up for a three-month or annual gym pass or exercise class membership until you know that is what you want to do.

Week 4 – 7:  Make your decision about what you like to do (make sure you enjoy it or want to try it for a month or so).

Remember that it takes at least 66 days to create a new habit. Be patient with yourself.

Week 8:  How do you like your decision?  Need to adjust it?  If so, do so.  Try something else.  Just don’t give up or use a vacation as an excuse not to do anything.

Week 9:  Is what you are doing meeting your need for doing it?  If not, why not?  Explore further, and don’t give up-modify and adjust!

create new habits

Pulling it all Together

  1. List what you hope to accomplish in 2018 and make sure it’s doable. You can always accomplish something small and then do the next step of an originally too big goal.
  2. Prioritize. Limit your goals to 2 or 3.
  3. Explore what is needed to get started (Can you live with reducing your double mocha lattes to 2x week to save $ for that new piece of technology or luxury car or expensive trip? If not, maybe start with cutting back by 1 a week).
  4. Reflect on your progress. Keep notes or a journal or write it electronically (there’s an app for that!).  Adjust.  Use a calendar and check off each day you meet your short-term goal.
  5. Can’t do it alone? No need to! Rely on a trustworthy friend who can offer both coaching and encouragement.

you can if you think you can

You can do it! I would love to have members of our FWSU learning community share their progress and am here to offer you support if you need it!

Bonnie Poe FWSU Wellness Coordinator

Bonnie Poe is the Prevention and Wellness Coordinator, PBIS Coach, and SBSAS Grant Coordinator for FWSU schools

THE FWSU STORY: How to #ThriveFWSU on a Snow Day

The Snow Day, dreaded by some, heralded by others, is always an opportunity!

classic snow day schultz peanuts picture

Today we take the opportunity to introduce you to a new FWSU Twitter account dedicated to helping FWSU thrive:

Information about WSCC Prevention and Wellness Team initiatives and health-enhancing news for #FWSU #FWSUHealthySchools #ThriveFWSU

Grab a cup of hot cocoa and take a few minutes to browse through tweets that are aimed at supporting the well-being of FWSU faculty and staff, students, and families.

Happiness is hot chocolate!

As you scroll @WellnessFWSU, you’ll meet our community partners, learn about the Whole School, Whole Child, Whole Community Model (WSCC) of Wellness, get information on Wellness Initiative at FWSU, and find lots of valuable information and health-enhancing tips such as:

Keeping the heart healthy and safe…

heart healthy safe snow shoveling tips

A timely reminder!

Healthy eating…

Food picks for good and bad snow days

Snow day food picks!


Remembering the power of self-care


Mindful schools

…and so much more!

thriving, wellness, self-care

Looking forward to having you join us in our quest to #ThriveFWSU!

Linda Keating

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum at FWSU. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward