THE FWSU STORY: Thanking our Administrative Professionals at BFA Fairfax

BFA Fairfax students will be on vacation next week, but that doesn’t mean that the building will be empty. When students are out of the building, even for the summer, our office staff is working to get ready for the return of students. Sally, Val, Amy, and Rhonda perform many of the behind the scenes tasks that keep our school running smoothly.

Sally Billado is the Accounting Clerk at BFA Fairfax.

Sally Billado is the Accounting Clerk at BFA Fairfax.

Sally Billado is officially our Accounting Clerk. She pays our bills, orders supplies, and organizes the substitute teachers. Unofficially, Sally is an event planner, photocopier repair person, problem solver, and willing listener. If there is something that needs to get done, Sally will take care of it. Sally did much of the behind-the-scenes work to get the 8th grade trip to Boston to happen. A member of a visiting team once commented that Sally could “run a small country!” Through the chaos of the day, she remains calm and takes care of business.

Val French is the Assistant to the Elementary Principal at BFA Fairfax

Val French is the Administrative Assistant for BFA Fairfax Elementary School

Val French is the Administrative Assistant for the elementary school. She is the first person students and parents meet when they enter the elementary school. Val makes sure students get on the right bus, are ready for early dismissals, answers the phone, and checks visitors into the school. It’s a special treat to get to eat your lunch with Mrs. French. Val knows every student by name and helps to keep Mr. Walsh organized.

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Amy Plog is the Administrative Assistant for BFA Fairfax Middle and High School

Amy Plog is the administrative assistant for the middle school and high school. Amy keeps track of student attendance and calls home to check on students. She collects items that students forget at home from parents and grandparents. Amy checks in the students who arrive late to school and reminds those that need to leave early. Amy also serves a vital role in athletic and community activity scheduling of our school facilities.  Every student, parent, and phone caller receives Amy’s bright and sunny greeting.

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Rhonda Masse is the School Registrar and Guidance Administrative Assistant

Rhonda Masse is our School Registrar and Administrative Assistant for the guidance office. Rhonda prints report cards and transcripts, organizes guidance events, registers new students and shares student information with colleges during the application process. Rhonda plays a major role in back to school night at the beginning of the year and graduation planning at the end. In between, she keeps track of enrollment and completes reports for the state and the federal government.

Although these four ladies have separate jobs and responsibilities, they work together when big projects arise. It might be a big mailing like the summer packets or an urgent mailing in response to a situation or upcoming event at school.

The bottom line is that BFA Fairfax would not function without them. Although we will be on school vacation next week, we would not want to miss out on sharing our appreciation for the hard work our administrative support staff. We appreciate them every day but want to be sure they are recognized on Administrative Professionals Day (April 25th).

Thank you, Sally, Val, Amy, and Rhonda for all you do for BFA Fairfax!

THE FWSU STORY: Fairfax Farm to School Program Cultivates Sustainable Partnership with School in Kenya

Last week, students at BFA Fairfax welcomed visiting school leaders from Kenya into their gardens and classrooms. It was an incredible opportunity for the visiting team to learn how to start a farm to school who want to start a farm to school program in their own community. The 10-day trip to Vermont was made possible through the generous support of VT Center for International Learning Partnerships (VCILP) and the Bay and Paul Foundation.

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BFA Fairfax students Shannon and Caitlin present the School Farm to Brother Kennedy and Florence Maina from Kenya.

” It is incredible all they are doing from saving orphans to building economic communities to building equality between genders.” – Grace Zelazny, BFA Fairfax student

Students leading BFA Fairfax’s farm to school club gave a tour of their grounds, orchards, and facilities, shared about their projects in their farm to school class, and told the story of how their program grew into the multifaceted collaborative project it is today.

Partners from Kenya, with Dr. Mary Lynn Riggs of VCILP, tour the Fairfax School Farm

Partners from Kenya, with Dr. Mary Lynn Riggs of VCILP, tour the Fairfax School Farm

“The work Brother Kennedy and Florence Maina are doing in Kenya is wonderful. They seek economic sustainability and gender equity through education. Creating a food system where people learn to garden in sustainable ways is at the heart of their work”  – Fred Griffin, BFA Fairfax High School Language Arts Teacher

As part of the effort to build capacity and strengthen rural community development efforts in Kenya, Dr. Mary Lynn Riggs, VCILP’s Program Coordinator, arranged for Brother Kennedy Oronjo and Florence Maina to visit the Farm to School program at BFA Fairfax.

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Brother Kennedy of St. Charles Lawanga in Kenya, interacts with students involved with sustainability and the BFA Fairfax School Farm.

“We know something about how hard things are in parts of the world. It was eye-opening to hear specifically what was going on in Kenya and Brother Kennedy’s school.” – Hannah Rainville

Farm to school programs increase students’ access to local, healthy foods, helping to address hunger and connecting students to where their food comes from to promote local agriculture and healthy eating habits. Brother Kennedy Oronjo and Florence Maina run two schools in Kenya for economically disadvantaged children, most of whom are orphans, one in Nairobi and one in rural Rodi-Homa Bay. The communities they serve struggle with food insecurity, economic challenges, and gender inequality, and they are building a farm to school program to address these issues and provide opportunities to young people. Their goal is to address hunger and food insecurity within the community through education and applied learning while at the same time boosting their rural economies. In the end, they envision a system similar to the one BFA Fairfax and other Vermont schools have developed.

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BFA Fairfax High School Language Arts Teacher Fred Griffin is a student advisor for the Farm to School Club.

“We want to find ways to link not just our Farm to School program, but our school with the project in Kenya. Heifer International was adopted by BFA Fairfax four years as a care-giving mission. Last year our student body purchased a water buffalo, two flocks of chickens and a sheep for Heifer to distribute. Livestock are a vital part of a sustainable food system. We are going to explore linking Heifer, Brother Kennedy, and our school by targeting his project as the beneficiary of our animal gifts.” – Fred Griffin, BFA Fairfax High School Language Arts Teacher

Students in Fairfax started their farm to school program only two years ago, and the program has since expanded rapidly. The students, both in farm to school classes and in the farm to school club, manage an apple orchard, a greenhouse, vegetable and herb gardens, and plan to add a chicken coop, a hoop house, and a pollinator garden this spring.

Signs of Spring at the BFA Fairfax Farm!

Signs of Spring in the greenhouse at the BFA Fairfax Farm!

“It’s great that they are trying to improve their lives.” – Anna Spiller, BFA Fairfax student

The project has been funded by two Vermont Farm to School grants, in 2016 and 2017, but the true success in their program comes from the creative integration of agriculture into the school curriculum and the deep community connections students and teachers have fostered with neighbors, student families, and the local agricultural community.

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Brother Kennedy and Florence review the plans for the BFA Fairfax School Farm to gain inspiration for a project in Kenya.

“I think it is pretty cool that they are looking at Farm to School here in Fairfax as a way to build a sustainable program of their own.” – Quentin Stoneburner, BFA Fairfax student

BFA Fairfax was chosen this year as one of Vermont’s exemplary Farm to School grantees and is featured in the 2018 Farm to School & Childcare Program Report. After seeing a successful farm to school program in Vermont, Brother Kennedy and Florence hope to bring tools and lessons learned back to Kenya to inspire the development of their own farm to school programs.

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Parsnips from the School Farm were served during a meeting with partners from Kenya.


Special thanks to Gina Clithero at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and BFA Fairfax High School Language Arts Teacher Fred Griffin for contributing to this story.

THE FWSU STORY: When a Keychain Is Not Just a Keychain

Three years ago when planning how to integrate innovation spaces into FWSU schools, we explored the emerging technology of 3D printing. At that time, many schools seemed to be using the technology to print everyday objects, like keychains. Although this was new and trendy, the leadership team agreed we wanted more: our 3D printing experiences for students would be centered on design thinking and problem-solving. We set a goal to use this technology to do more than “just print keychains.” We wanted to strive for a learning experience that would empower our students to create objects with real purpose and positive impact.

Today our Innovation Labs are well established and we have successfully used 3D printing technology to solve problems and bring creative design to new levels. Students have printed all sorts of objects along the way (some may have even resembled keychains!). At the same time, 3D printing has become an important tool, the GEMS Innovation Lab has also focused on the important concept of global sustainability. To apply this concept authentically, the Lab has used the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework for several student learning experiences.

One such class called Global Inquiry asks students to study global issues and problems associated with the SDGs and then take action. The overarching idea is that we all need to participate in order to solve the world’s problems. Small steps taken by a large number of people can add up to a great deal of progress. This is the second year of the class and students have completed wide-ranging projects from a solar oven to a blog raising awareness about shark finning, to work with an elementary classroom to reduce the use of plastic shopping bags. All of these projects took small but meaningful steps forward toward one or more of the SDGs.

One of the groups in the current class wanted to do something about SDG #15: Life on Land. After doing some research, they decided they would like to raise money to symbolically adopt a hippopotamus. They planned to ask for donations but also wanted people to show their support for the cause by displaying an object. The students focused on 3D design and arrived at the idea of a “hippo charm.”

Several design prototypes were created before the students decided on a flat circle with a raised logo. Next came the question of how it could be displayed. Once they were printed, some were backed with magnets, and others had a ring threaded through a hole at the top of the design. While students could hang these from backpacks to display their support, the charms quickly became known as the “keychain” option.

The students have received a steady stream of dollar donations and have given out their hippo charms in return. An additional design, a “hippo figurine”, created by another student in the class, has also become a popular request. The project is well on its way to raising the needed funds for the symbolic hippopotamus adoption. More than that, it is showing once again how small efforts can add up to positive change. Call it a keychain, call it a charm, in this case, it is more; it is students making a positive impact on their world.

If you wish to know more about this project or are interested in participating in some way, you can contact the Global Inquiry Class through the GEMS Innovation Lab by email or connect @gemsinnolab.

THE FWSU STORY: Paraprofessional Evaluation Committee Develops New Model

As part of the process of consolidation of special education costs in FY19, all special education paraprofessionals will become supervisory union employees. This mandate provides an opportunity to review and update the current evaluation model for all paraprofessional staff. A committee comprised of paraprofessionals, special educators, and administrators from each of our schools reviewed the current evaluation process and documents for each of the schools. The committee is now in the final stages of developing a standard evaluation protocol for use throughout the district.

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The intent of the evaluation process is to provide paraprofessionals with meaningful feedback delivered in a consistent model across the district. The committee structured the evaluation tool on professional domains of knowledge, responsibilities, learning environment, instructional support, and strategies.

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The evaluation model includes essential elements like learning, sharing, reflection, implementation, and feedback.

The FWSU Special Education Department reviewed the draft document at the last special education district meeting and provided valuable feedback. The evaluation committee plans to share the form with all staff to gather additional input before finalizing the document. The revised paraprofessional evaluation tool will be ready for the start of next school year. The coordination of paraprofessionals at the supervisory union will allow for resources to be more efficiently utilized to support student learning.

Valuable feedback was gathered at the last FWSU Special Education Department meeting.

Valuable feedback was gathered at the last FWSU Special Education Department meeting.

THE FWSU STORY: Representatives Bring Student Voice and Leadership to Fairfax School Board

The long-standing tradition at BFA Fairfax of having two student representatives serve on our school board continues. Providing students with opportunities to lead is one of the central emphases of the FWSU Action Plan. The two student representatives, a junior and a senior, are selected through a comprehensive process facilitated by the BFA Fairfax Student Council. The Fairfax School Board has benefited from the perspective of some exceptional student members over the years and this year’s term is no exception. BFA Fairfax senior Bailey Halliday and junior Shane Seals have served with distinction.

Bailey Halliday and Shane Seals are student representatives serving on the Fairfax School Board.

Bailey Halliday and Shane Seals are student representatives serving on the Fairfax School Board.

Each month Bailey and Shane keep the rest of the board apprised of all the happenings at BFA Fairfax and most importantly, help shape the understanding of the issues at our school and our community from a student perspective. Their voice in the operations of BFA Fairfax is invaluable and we are proud of their contributions.

Today, our student representatives offer their thoughts on what it means to serve on the Fairfax School Board:

BAILEY HALLIDAY

Can you tell us why you were interested in serving on the Fairfax School Board? 

I wanted to be more involved in my community.  I like being involved in as many activities as possible. I wasn’t sure what exactly a student representative did on a school board but I was excited to learn more about it. I enjoy understanding how decisions are made and who the people are that are making them.

What have you learned? 

I have learned so much in the last 2 years. This role has taught me everything from how a school board runs, to how best to get my point across to a group of people.  It has allowed me to practice my public speaking skills and become confident in my speaking abilities. I have also learned how much the school board members care about the students.  They truly value our opinions and want to know what is going on in our school.

What advice would you give to other students who may want to serve?

I would tell students to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them.  This is a unique opportunity that does not come around often. It is a lot of work so students should be prepared, however, it is definitely worth it in the end!

What excites you most about education at BFA Fairfax?

The world of education is changing and it is starting at BFA.  One of my favorite parts of being a student rep. On the school board is listening to other students and teachers talk about what is going on in the classrooms.  The teachers are all so dedicated and want students to get the most that they can out of their education. There are always new ways to get involved in your own learning.

What do your friends think of your service?

My friends were definitely skeptical at first of me taking on this role but I think that they like it now.  I try to get all of the students involved in my reports so I will often ask multiple students about what is going on for them in school.  I believe that my friends like the opportunity to tell the school board all of the amazing things going on in this school.

SHANE SEALS

Can you tell us why you were interested in serving on the Fairfax School Board?

I hadn’t heard much about it prior to my application, but once I learned about being able to join I was interested. I hadn’t had a chance to participate in any student government or committees behind school changes and decision-making, so I decided it would be a good chance to earn some experience and insight into the school.

What have you learned?

I’ve learned how administrative committees function and the mindset behind the decisions they make. Beyond that, I’ve learned how to summarize reports of what’s going on in the school and how that connects to school trends and changes that need to be made.

What advice would you give to other students who may want to serve?

I would advise joining student council or becoming involved with some form of student
leadership because it will provide valuable experience and insight into how different committees function and will help you follow along and create your own student reports for each meeting.

What excites you most about education at BFA Fairfax? 

The range of different teaching styles and the access to technical programs and other post-high school programs is exciting. It’s really important to have plenty of opportunities in Vermont so kids have the chance to branch out after high school.

What do your friends think of your service?

I don’t think my friends think much about me being on the school board because of the meetings are so spaced out and they don’t hear about them often.

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Fairfax Board of School Directors

“Bailey and Shane serve a very important role on our school board as they bring the ‘student voice’ to the table.  They are great advocates for our students and remind us of the many successes and challenges students face in school.  We depend on them to help us make the best decisions to sustain and improve educational opportunities at BFA Fairfax.” — Elaine Carpenter,  Chair of Fairfax Board of School Directors

THE FWSU STORY: Fairfax 8th Grader Earns Second Place in National Geographic Vermont State Bee

On April 6, eighth-grader Wyeth Haddock represented BFA-Fairfax in the National Geographic Vermont State Geography Bee at Castleton State University.  Wyeth earned his spot at the State Bee by winning the school championship in February, then taking a qualifying test.

Wyeth at the State Geography Bee

Wyeth at the State Geography Bee

At the State Bee, Wyeth competed against 73 other middle schoolers from across the state.  Wyeth advanced to the final round after finishing among the top 10 overall scorers in the preliminary rounds.  In the final round, the competitors faced a variety of geographic challenges and questions. These challenges included selecting a city for solar and wind project based on their knowledge of population and climate and identifying a world city using only precipitation and average temperature data.

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Wyeth and coach Jennifer Skerrett

The field was narrowed from 10 students to 6, then to 4, until the final 2: Wyeth and Mary Fowler, who represented Eastern Vermont Homeschoolers. Wyeth came in second place overall, just missing out on the chance to represent Vermont at the National Championship in Washington, DC.

Wyeth takes second place in the Vermont state national geography bee

Wyeth takes second place in the Vermont State Geography Bee

Congratulations to Wyeth for an outstanding performance!


Jennifer Skerrett is a 7/8 Social Studies Teacher and Geo-Bee Coach at BFA Fairfax. You can follow her @jskerrett

THE FWSU STORY: GEMS Students Learn Transferrable Skills with Team U-Topia

Vermont has set a very high bar for student achievement with Transferable Skills.  Every student must demonstrate proficiency in the following areas.

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Team U-Topia

  • Clear and Effective Communication
  • Self Direction
  • Creative and Practical Problem Solving
  • Responsible and Involved Citizenship
  • Informed and Integrative Thinking

One way GEMS is helping students learn transferable skills is through Team U-Topia. Every Monday and Friday morning a team of over 60 students and 3 core teachers plus countless other staff members meets to provide students with a greater voice in their learning. GEMS tackled three transferable skills in Core classes.

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GEMS U-Topia

Self-Direction:  Teachers encourage students to take ownership of their learning by setting goals and taking proper action to achieve they desire to accomplish.

Clear and Effective Communication: Students are asked to participate in large and small group discussions.  Some presented to the entire grade during our weekly Team U-Topia meetings. They were asked to explain their thinking in writing. Every piece had to be organized with a clear purpose (claim). Our purpose had to be supported by facts, numbers, quotes, and logic.

Responsible and Involved Citizenship: Our students had a voice and were engaged in building stronger teams.

Beautiful Work: Students display their best and most “beautiful” work on the GEMS Tribute Wall. Meeting the qualifications for the Tribute Wall involves critique, revision, rehearsal, and aesthetics.